New Study Discusses Unmet Clinical Needs Being Addressed by 3D Printing

3D printing continues to make a huge impact on the medical field – the evidence more than speaks for itself. But this important work is not done yet. A team of researchers based at the University of Utah recently published a review paper that, as Yong Lin Kong, PhD, an assistant professor in the university’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, told, “highlights the progress of 3D printing technologies in addressing unmet clinical needs.”

The paper, titled “Addressing Unmet Clinical Needs with 3D Printing Technologies” and published in Advanced Healthcare Materials, was written by Udayan Ghosh, Shen Ning with the Boston University School of Medicine, Yuzhu Wang, and Professor Kong.

A) 3D printed biomimetic bone environment for evaluating breast cancer bone metastasis; B) 3D printed network guide for regenerating damaged nerve plexuses; C) 3D printed titanium prosthetic for sternocostal reconstruction; D) An endothelialized myocardium by 3D printing endothelial cells encompassed within micro-fibrous hydrogel scaffolds; E) 3D printed personalized ocular prosthesis; F) Bionic ears; G) Hollow micrometer-scale microneedles; H) 3D printed pelvic implant.

The abstract reads, “Recent advances in 3D printing have enabled the creation of novel 3D constructs and devices with an unprecedented level of complexity, properties, and functionalities. In contrast to manufacturing techniques developed for mass production, 3D printing encompasses a broad class of fabrication technologies that can enable 1) the creation of highly customized and optimized 3D physical architectures from digital designs; 2) the synergistic integration of properties and functionalities of distinct classes of materials to create novel hybrid devices; and 3) a biocompatible fabrication approach that facilitates the creation and cointegration of biological constructs and systems. This progress report describes how these capabilities can potentially address a myriad of unmet clinical needs.”

The paper first looks at providing structural support for skeletal and tubular organs with 3D printed prosthetics in order to help people regain some of the functions they’ve lost, and then moves on to novel drug delivery strategies and organ-on-a-chip systems.

“Fourth, the developments of 3D-printed tissue and organ regeneration are explored,” the researchers explain in the paper. “Finally, the potential for seamless integration of engineered organs with active devices by leveraging the versatility of multimaterial 3D printing is envisioned.”

Society has been transformed by mass production, which allows parts to be manufactured at a far lower cost than hiring manual labor. However, that makes it difficult, and more expensive, to find customized products.

The researchers say in the paper, “Instead of optimizing for individual need and comfort, mass production manufacturing has compelled society to tolerate a finite set of prescribed designs determined by the overall market.”

Mass production doesn’t really address the complexity of the human body, and the majority of typical FDA-approved medical devices are not tailor-made to a patient’s specifications, which can many different issues that affect a person’s quality of life. But now, more and more physicians are investigating the use of 3D printing as it pertains to making cost-effective, customized devices.

“Indeed, 3D printing of biocompatible materials can create patient-specific prosthetics tailored to each patient’s unique anatomy and needs,” the researchers wrote.

3D printed prosthetics can help decrease discomfort, as they’re fitted to specific people, and at the same time are less expensive while also being more accessible. One specific, and very important, unmet clinical need that 3D printing can help with is creating functioning upper limb prostheses for children, so that they can grasp things in order to perform their basic daily activities. It’s hard to provide children with well-fitting prosthetics, as they grow so rapidly; that’s why a 3D printed version is a far better option.

Mock-up prototype of a microneedle array.

3D printed devices are also being used to help develop novel drug delivery strategies, from customized mouthguards and vaccines to microneedles and micro-rockets.

The researchers wrote, “Here, 3D printing enables the creation of unique architectures to allow painless delivery of therapeutic agents and tailored drug release profiles.”

Current strategies can be difficult when attempting to enable accurate drug delivery, but 3D printing has the potential to, as the paper puts it, “overcome these long- standing challenges.”

“3D printing introduced a potential opportunity for developing personalized, controlled, and precise drug delivery systems,” the researchers explained. “This technology achieves precise control of dosage in accordance with the size and dispensary mechanism of the design. Biocompatible material also allows for long-term implantation or retention while continuously dispensing controlled volumes with the potential to evolve into a highly efficient sensor-controlled drug dispensing system.”

3D printing is also being used now to address the unmet clinical need of the organ-on-a-chip platform, as it can summarize microenvironments in order to gain a more thorough understanding of cellular mechanics.

A) 3D printed in vitro human renal proximal tubules embedded within an extracellular matrix and housed in perfusable tissue chips. B) Customizable 3D printed nervous system-on-a-chip. The circular pattern of 3D printed silicone tri-microchannels designed for axonal guidance (L). A microscopy image shows three parallel microchannels of neurons and axons (green) in a chamber (R).

“Tissue/lab-on-a-chip, synonymous to biomedical application of microfluidics, is an advantageous and cost-effective way to investigate basic research questions. Analyzing fluids at the micrometer scale using microfluidic device holds immense promises for biological research,” the researchers said in the paper.

Ongoing research into tissues-on-a-chip is working to develop tissue chips that can act as accurate models for a specific organ’s function and structure, and 3D printing is the perfect technology for the job. Research also continues for the use of 3D bioprinting in tissue regeneration, as it can be used to create biocompatible constructs and 3D printed scaffolds to help regrow damaged tissues and organs, such as ears.

The researchers explained, “Bone tissue–engineered 3D constructs are more advantageous than 2D cell cultures due to the structure and mechanical composition 3D printing can produce to mimic the bone tissue microenvironment.”

Liver on a chip

Finally, the team touched on multimaterial 3D printing, which can help speed up “the creation of bioelectronic constructs to impart active functionalities to an otherwise passive construct.”

“The incorporation of electronics into biomedical devices and biological scaffolds is a foundational concept, which when applied, can mimic and even augment the complex functionalities of biological systems,” the researchers continued.

By integrating medical instruments with electronics, we can develop sophisticated new bioelectronic devices that are actually able to process feedback from the human body. The level of integration demonstrated by conventional fabrication techniques is rather limited, but using 3D printing to achieve these devices opens up far more possibilities – even, as the researchers explain, “the ability to mimic or surpass complex functionalities intrinsic to biological organs.”

“To date, demonstrations of a seamless bioelectronics 3D printing have been limited to passive electronic components, such as conductive traces and capacitors,” the researchers explained. “The integration of active electronic devices could impart an otherwise passive construct with optical, sensing, and computational capabilities.

“We anticipate that similar approaches can develop 3D printing strategies of various classes of active electronics. Nevertheless, the biocompatibility of such approach must be critically assessed to ascertain a full translational result from the bench to the bedside.

There’s a lot to think about here, but one thing is certain – the research into how we can address a myriad of unmet clinical needs with 3D printing should continue.

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3D Printed Paracetamol Tablets Have Big Implications for Personalized Medicine

Drugs affect everyone differently. That’s why it’s so hard to find the right medication and right dosage to treat people with depression, for example, or why certain people don’t seem to get much relief from painkillers. That’s why the prospect of 3D printed medication is so exciting. Companies like FabRx are working to create medicines with personalized doses through 3D printing. Not only does 3D printing allow for different medications to be combined in one dose, but, as a new study shows, dosages can also be customized to suit people with different metabolic rates. The study, entitled “Extrusion 3D Printing of Paracetamol Tablets from a Single Formulation with Tunable Release Profiles Through Control of Tablet Geometry,” was written by a group of researchers from the University of Nottingham and GlaxoSmithKline.

“Personalised medicine is defined as a customization of health care to individual patients through linking diagnostics and treatments with genetic testing and emerging technologies such as proteomics and metabolomics analysis,” the researchers state. “The main advantages of this approach are to increase the effectiveness of the prescribed treatment regimen and to minimise their adverse effects such as those linked to overdosing of drugs with a narrow therapeutic index such as digoxin and anti-clotting agents.”

Paracetamol, or acetaminophen, is one of the most commonly used over-the-counter painkillers, so the researchers selected it as the subject for their proof of concept study. Work has been done before using FDM 3D printing to formulate paracetamol tablets, they note, but the high extrusion temperature limits the potential active ingredients to only heat-stable ones. Other methods like SLA and ink-jet printing use excipients that are not generally recognized as safe, however, so FDM was chosen for the study.

A regenHU 3D bioprinter was used to print paracetamol into three different tablet geometries – solid, ring and mesh. The outer dimensions of the tablets were kept in the same oval shape, but the inner geometries were varied, as were the number of layers. The weights of the tablets were also kept consistent by varying their heights. The tablet surface area influenced the speed of the drug release – for example, with the mesh tablets, 70% of the drug was released within the first 15 minutes, while 25% was released from the ring tablets and 12% from the solid tablets in the same period of time.

Notably, each of the tablets contained the same dosage of paracetamol, but the different release rates meant that they would affect people in different ways. These release rates could, therefore, be tailored to specific patients’ metabolisms for the most effective treatment.

“The demonstrated ability to use a single unmodified formulation to achieve defined release profiles presents opportunities to optimise or personalise medicines during formulation development and in clinical use,” the researchers explain. “For example, relatively straightforward personalization of medicines would be possible for individuals with different metabolism rates due to their genetic makeup for certain drugs and hence could address issues where people who metabolise drugs slowly may accumulate a toxic level of a drug in the body or in others who process a drug quickly and never have high enough drug concentrations to be effective.”

Any drug is dangerous when taken in too-high doses, but some people tend to go overboard with painkillers such as paracetamol, because, as the researchers point out, they metabolize the drugs too quickly for them to be effective and thus think that more is better. More is toxic, in fact, but programming drugs so that their release rates are tailored to each individual’s metabolism means that the same dosage can be taken by different people and still have the proper effect on each one.

If this study could be applied to painkillers only, it would still be big news, but its potential goes beyond just paracetamol. Adverse effects could be minimized from drugs such as anticoagulants and antidepressants, even as they are tailored to be more effective to each individual patient. The prospect of personalized medicine through 3D printing has a lot of promise; one day we may look back on our current “one dosage fits all” standard as primitive medicine.

Authors of the paper include Shaban A. Khaled, Morgan R. Alexander, Derek J. Irvine, Ricky D. Wildman, Martin J. Wallace, Sonja Sharpe, Jae Yoo and Clive J. Roberts.

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LulzBot Releasing Micro Tool Head For Penny-Scale Prints

Aleph Objects’ LulzBot has announced a new addition to it’s aerostruder line, a tool head for penny-scale printing. The Aerostruder V2 micro enables users to make, as the name suggests, prints the size of the average pence or penny. What’s more, the tool head also allows for the use of flexible and rigid filaments, providing […]

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UC San Diego researchers develop 3D smart bandage to wirelessly monitor body signals

Mirroring the process of additive manufacturing, engineers from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have created a 3D stretchable electronic device, dubbed as the “smart bandage”, that wirelessly monitors human body signals such as eye movement, temperature, and heart and brain activity. By fashioning elastomer films on top of each other, the smart bandage, […]

Hobbyist 3D prints open source CNC machine for under $200

Hobbyist and Reddit 3D printing community contributor Marioarm has built an “almost fully” 3D printed CNC machine for milling electronic chipboards. Marioarm built the Cyclone PCB CNC machine with 3D printed parts downloaded from file sharing sites such as Thingiverse and the GitHub repository Cyclone PCB Factory. With minimal, prefabricated parts, the project in total cost Marioarm […]

Upgrade Your Backpack with a ‘Solar Boost Bag’ Circuit | #BackToSchool

Wise mom once said “You go to school to learn not for a fashion show.” So why not learn a bit about solar panels and the power they generate (thankfully the sun never goes out of fashion!) to build your own backpack-able battery pack. Wherever the sun shines – whether in your school bus window during the morning commute or throughout the day as you hop-skip around campus – at the end of the day your mobile device will thank you for being fully charged!

Check out the full project here on the Adafruit Learning System.


August is Back to School Month here at Adafruit! Each week we’ll be bringing you a two #BackToSchool posts on the blog! Stay tuned for product and gift guides, tutorials from the Adafruit Learning System, and inspiration from around the web! Get started by checking out Adafruit’s educational resources, such as our kits and project packs, suggested products for young engineers, blog posts for educators and an extensive selection of books to help you learn!

NASA and Freelancer Challenge Designers to Create Arm for Astrobee Flying Robot

Astrobee [Image courtesy of]

NASA is a big fan of crowdsourcing and contests, whether it’s a global headlining competition like the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge or something smaller to stimulate the creativity of students. To launch these competitions, NASA often teams up with other organizations such as, with which it has put on dozens of challenges since 2015, including one involving 3D printing and recycling in space. Now NASA and are working together again for an ongoing challenge series that involves a flying robot.

Astrobee is a robotic assistant being designed by NASA for the astronauts on the International Space Station. It will fly around inside the ISS, perch on a wall-mounted handhold, and orient a camera as directed. NASA has already designed the free-flying part of the robot, and is now running a multi-challenge series to encourage participants to develop parts of the robotic arm.

[Image: NASA Ames]

The series is comprised of more than a dozen contests, each asking for solutions to a particular piece of the robotic arm, though sometimes the individual contests will involve parts that overlap with others. A total of $25,000 will be awarded, spread out over the multiple contests, with prize amounts ranging from $250 to $5,000. Participants can compete in as many or as few of the contests as they which, as each has been designed to stand alone. Winning solutions may be incorporated into Astrobee’s robotic arm and used on the ISS.

Three winners have already been chosen. Nino Wunderlin is a 23-year-old university student from South Africa, studying for a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering with a specialty in liquid rocket propulsion systems. He used his knowledge in electronics and control, aerostructures for lightweight design and 3D modeling and design for his entry in the “Design an Attachment Mechanism” contest.

“I wanted to challenge myself and see if my work was good enough for NASA,” he said.

37-year-old Conceptual Engineer Myrdal Manzano, from the Philippines, joined after being laid off from his job more than two years ago. He worked on the “Design a ‘Smart’ Attachment Mechanism” contest, applying his skills in 3D design, PCB layout design, manufacturing, circuit design, robotics and automation.

36-year-old Amit Biswas is a Software Engineer who entered the “Design a Simple Deployment Mechanism” contest with his company, Triassic Robotics. His skills in mechanical engineering, CAD and electronics helped him meet strict requirements for size, weight and power consumption. The design took him about two weeks of work.

“I am very passionate about robotics in general and space robotics is particularly interesting,” said Biswas. “I was excited to work on this project right from the beginning.”

The Astrobee Challenges Series still has nine contests that have not yet been unlocked, so you can still enter if you’re interested. The final challenge is scheduled to conclude in September of this year. Astrobee will be sent to the ISS in 2019 to replace the existing SPHERES robot, and will help astronauts with everything from housekeeping to spacecraft monitoring. It can perform tasks autonomously as well as take direction from Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

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SMS Group Helps Customers Digitalize Through 3D Printing and Other Tech

German family-owned business SMS Group works with metal companies to develop solutions for new plants, modernized or digitalized plants, and more. The company just reported strong numbers for the last quarter, and is looking ahead to a busy and productive remainder of 2018.

“SMS group is the world market leader in plant and mechanical engineering for the steel and non-ferrous metals industry,” said CEO Burkhardt Dahmen. “We have worked hard to sustainably strengthen our position as the most modern and efficient company in the industry. Above all, we owe this to the extraordinary dedication of our employees.”

SMS Group is a leader in digitalization, and has developed a concept known as the “Learning Factory” in which humans and machines work together in an intelligent and largely autonomous production environment. Recently, SMS Group commissioned a “Learning Steel Mill” for Arkansas customer Big River Steel, which was developed jointly with the customer. It has thus far met all expectations in practice, and SMS Group recently received approval for an extension stage.

The company is investing further in the production and processing of new high tech materials and intelligent environmental technologies. Its activities are being bundled in a company-wide strategy program called “New Horizon,” for which the first customer projects have already been successfully completed. These projects include the world’s first “UrbanGold plant,” which is a new type of system that allows valuable, high-purity precious metals such as copper, nickel, gold, silver and platinum to be economically recovered from scrap metal such as printed circuit boards in laptops and phones. Through Urban Gold precious materials could be reclaimed close to where you or I live. At the moment such circuit boards are sent half way around the world where the entire PC or laptop are often burned in order to extract the precious metal.

SMS Group is also working on the production of high-purity metal powders for additive manufacturing. The company recently built and commissioned an industrial pilot plant to produce metal powder with microscopically small homogeneous spheres. In addition, SMS Group is building a demo center for the entire process chain of additive manufacturing, from metal powders to end products.

Further innovation is coming from the Paul Wurth Group, which is part of the SMS Group. The company has developed a new solution for decentralized energy generation that involves W2E (Waste-to-Energy) and B2E (Biomass-to-Energy) plants, as well as combined heat and power plants that are used as environmentally friendly and resource-saving energy sources.

“Quality work and innovation are our most important characteristics,” said Dahmen. “Our customers expect precision in their implementation and creativity in solving the most complex problems. We are also making use of these strengths in the further development of the SMS group itself. With ‘New Horizon’ and our digitalization offensive, we have launched a sophisticated growth program that will sustainably strengthen our company’s leading position.”

Worldwide, SMS Group has about 13,500 employees who generate sales of more than €3 billion. The corporation is made up of a group of companies located on five continents. As a whole, the group is a forward-thinking, technologically-minded corporation that works with a number of resources, including additive manufacturing, to help companies become more efficient, ecological and productive. Projects such as the Learning Factories, New Horizon and the UrbanGold plant are examples of how SMS Group is helping its customers move forward through technology.

Involvement in 3D Printing from firms with deep expertise in manufacturing will lead to the expansion of all of our capabilities.

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[Images: SMS Group]


Vienna Researchers 3D Print Placenta Barrier on a Chip

Modelling and simulation is just one of the fields that bioprinting has given a boost to. Researchers often create artificial test models to see how biological systems interact with each other, from cell tissue to medicines. Now, researchers in Vienna are taking modelling even further by reproducing the placental barrier to investigate prenatal functions, and […]

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University of Sydney awarded $1.15 million for iFix 3D printing Biopen

The University of Sydney’s Save Sight Institute has been awarded a $1.15 million (AUD) grant from the New South Wales (NSW) Government’s Medical Devices Fund (MDF) to progress commercialization of its 3D corneal biopen. The iFix Pen, a hand-held co-axial 3D printer, extrudes bioink directly onto an eye to aid in the regeneration of cells […]