Tuesday, May 26, 2015

3D Printing in Medicine

The first I knew of prosthetics was from the cheesy 70's TV drama "The Six Million Dollar Man," where the fictional astronaut, Steve Austin undergoes state-sanctioned surgery to replace certain body parts that he lost in a terrible spaceship crash with machine-like “bionics”. You can find the Intro to the TV show on YouTube. As the TV title suggests, prosthetics are not cheap (and that’s in 1970 dollars!), albeit those that Mr. Austin had were apparently powered by their own highly efficient little motors which enabled him to come close to emulating Superman. Never did figure out where he had the batteries.

Non-fictional modern prostheses have come a long way from the stereotypical peg legs seen on sailors. They can even come with small electric motors to allow patients to use their prosthesis in a similar fashion to the original limb, just not like Steve Austin! Even without the motors, prostheses are expensive primarily because they need to fit the patient and can’t be mass produced. This is particularly unfortunate for children who can rapidly outgrow their prosthesis.

New developments in 3D printing have appeared to solve this problem, where prostheses can be produced for as little as $5! 3D printing is being investigated for many roles in regenerative medicine, including printing cells to make tissues such as bones, cartilage and skin! There is also the potential to 3D print more complex biological structures such as organs! Stay tuned...

By: BioTek Instruments, Peter Banks Ph.D., Scientific Director

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