3-D printing breakthroughs--such as the creation of implantable bioprinted tissues--are becoming increasingly possible because researchers are creating custom 3-D printers that are far more complex than what is presently commercially available.
Think custom-built 3-D printers that create with multiple materials from the nanoscale to the macroscale--enabling significant medical device innovation in the process. Pioneers in the field include Michael McAlpine, PhD, at the University of Minnesota, Jennifer Lewis, ScD, at Harvard University, and Anthony Atala, MD, at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
McAlpine, for example, was able to use a custom-built 3-D printer to improve a rat's walking ability. McAlpine and his research colleagues used a 3-D scanner to reverse engineer the structure of the rat's sciatic nerve, and then 3-D print a silicone regeneration guide (shown on the right) that also had 3D-printed chemical cues to promote both motor and sensory nerve regeneration. Implantation of the guide in the rat provided a proof-of-concept that such guides could promote nerve regeneration. McAlpine envisions such guides someday being made of bioabsorbable materials, enabling nerve regeneration that is usually rare among people suffering from nerve damage.
|See Tim Lew of AxoGen discuss, "Advances in 3-D Printing Capabilities for Medical Device Development," at BIOMEDevice San Jose, December 7-8, 2016.|
[Image of custom-built 3-D printer at the University of Minnesota taken by Chris Newmarker/Qmed. Nerve regeneration guide photo courtesy of Michael McAlpine/University of Minnesota]