Typically, when medical device companies or physicians want to study a specific condition or disease state, they experiment on either cadavers or animals. But finding a cadaver that fits the criteria of one of these pathologies, such as scoliosis or congenital heart disease, can be difficult. And if such cadavers can be found, the cost to procure, maintain, and dispose of them is significant. Animal studies have the same cost-effectiveness issues. And, while animal anatomy can be similar to human anatomy, it is not exactly the same.
“But now [customers] can have organ models printed in 3D, on demand,” said Scott Drikakis, business segment leader, medical, at Stratasys, said in an interview with MD+DI. Based on the need for biomechanical accuracy and in response to feedback from its current customers, Stratasys partnered both with medical device companies and hospitals to develop its J750 Digital Anatomy printer. Not only can it print exact replicas of human organs, it also realistically recreates any type of pathologies in them.
The J750 has 384 nozzles on every print head, and it ejects polymers out of each nozzle. On each side of the print head are UV lights, so that as the material is ejected, it is UV cured. From a 16-micron level, each layer is built upon, with the X axis and the Y axis going forward and back, and then the Z axis is what builds the materials for the model up.
“We launched three new materials, which are acrylic polymers, to start with in the digital anatomy printer,” said Drikakis. The first one is a tissue matrix, which he said would be used for any cardiac tissue or skin-like material.
Gel matrix is the second material, and it is used when trying to create smaller blood vessels.
The third polymer is bone matrix. Drikakis noted that this can be used for not only the external features of the bone, but also the internal structures such as the cortical microstructure.
Additionally, the matrices can be mixed and blended to create “a synthetic digital twin of whatever the anatomy is,” said Drikakis. “The ultimate driver of this solution is the software, and what the software does is take all those material options and then it blends them to replicate whatever specific anatomy or pathology they're trying to create,” Drikakis continued. “For example, with arteries or veins, we would use gel matrix in combination with tissue matrix,” he said.
Both medical device companies and hospitals could benefit from the digital anatomy printing technology. “Medical device companies will use it more for device validation testing, for their design history files, for regulatory submissions,” Drikakis said. Academic medical centers would use it for education and training, and for surgical planning as well. “Being able to have a tool like this for educational training for residents and fellows for procedures that don't come along often, we now provide a means of training so that they're practicing these rare procedures that are more complicated, prior to doing it for the first time on a patient,” he explained.
Currently, Stratasys offers 3D digital anatomy printing in the cardiac, orthopedics, and vascular areas, but the company has plans to expand its offerings with a minimum of two releases every year for the next three years.
“This is really just a start for us,” concluded Drikakis. “We've got both a three-year and a five-year road map, where we will be offering additional materials and applications, and software advancements to build upon this digital anatomy portfolio.