3D printing, the future of medicine

By: Oscar Mendinueta
Editorial office THE INFORMER

Without a doubt, science and technology have provided valuable advancements for medicine in the modern world and it can be said that the future of medicine lies in these two branches due to the contribution they have offered to health research.

In particular, one of the latest advances in medicine is 3D printing technology, which has numerous applications in medical science and promises to be the future of modern medicine in the world.

Any type of patient can be a candidate for a custom implant designed digitally and printed in 3D.

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However, to talk about 3D printing, we must first talk about the machine in question: the 3D printer invented in 1983 by Charles W. Hull, better known as Chuck Hull, an American inventor who patented his creation in 1986. The first 3D printed piece was made using a process known as stereolithography and completely revolutionized the printing market. In this sense, this revolution monopolized many applications, including medical science.

Currently, 3D printing has brought many advances in medicine, such as the ability to create implants, prostheses, and perform 3D printed organ and tissue transplants to help improve the quality of life of terminally ill patients, in addition to impacting research and medical education.

In Colombia, the 3D printing trend started in the city of Barranquilla.

Currently, 3D printing prostheses are being made for patients, such as jaws for maxillofacial surgery, skull parts for neurosurgery, titanium implants for vertebrae, and more.

To learn more about the applications of 3D printing in medicine and how it works, EL INFORMADOR consulted an expert on the subject, Jaime Bonilla Alvarez, a Bogota-based Colombian doctor from Neiva, Vila, who holds a Master of Medical Arts from the University of Dundee , Scotland, and is working on a project called “Zygoma 3D” focused on 3D printing for research and development of medical problems.

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EL INFORMADOR (EI): How is 3D printing related to medicine?
Jaime Bonilla Alvarez (JBA): “3D printing has many medical applications, not only is it the subject of low-cost prostheses made and designed in 3D digital models, which most people know, but it can also be used for surgical planning, ie. the images of a patient and reconstructing them in a 3D digital model and then planning the operation in a physical model to enter the operating room in advance with training in a solid model; this reduces the number of complications during surgery”.

EI: Of the various applications, which one have you devoted yourself to?
“The field I’m researching right now is education, I’m making medical training models from medical images, which is basically when you take a medical image like a tomography or an MRI, you can take it into a segmentation software that allows the transformation of that medical image in a three-dimensional digital model. This makes it possible to make very realistic and anatomically accurate models of any body”.

Jaime Bonilla is working on creating 3D printed anatomical models for doctors to practice their surgical skills.

EI: When did you become interested in 3D printing?
“I came with this interest more or less from 2012 when I first went to Scotland where I was doing my postgraduate degree and I started seeing 3D printers and I got interested in having one, first I had a Colombian 3D printer. Because actually, as a fun fact, much of 3D printing in Colombia started in Barranquilla, where there are many people interested in the subject. Then I started researching how it could be applied in medicine.

EI: What is 3D bioprinting?
“3D printing also promises to reach further, especially with a topic known as 3D bioprinting, which is more or less the same principle as 3D printing, but now with living cells. 3D printed living tissue transplants are expected to exist soon. It is already done, blisters, cartilages, tissues are made without much vascularization, that is, without many blood vessels. In fact, governments like Germany and Japan are investing a lot of money in 3D bioprinting.”

EI: What is the 3D bioprinting process?
“Very expensive technologies are needed, first a cell incubator, second a bioreactor, third a 3D bioprinter, and finally the introduction of bioinks, which are like the cell substrate for bioprinting.”

Applications of 3D printing in medicine
3D printing contributes greatly to the technological advancement of medicine with numerous health applications that can help save patients’ lives, among the various applications stand out the realization of prostheses, surgical planning, medical education, implant manufacturing. and 3D bioprinting, among others.

EI: Why do you say 3D printing is part of the future in medicine?
“Because printing living tissues and printing personalized implants are scientific advances in themselves. We can take the image of a patient and make a prosthesis or an implant tailored to the patient, as opposed to what was done in previous years, which was, say, a standard implant that is cut out and half grafted; can now be customized to the patient, their fracture or deformity. 3D bioprinting holds the promise of printing organs that can be transplanted, so eventually we hope to implant a liver, kidney, cornea, or other organ into the body.

Jaime Bonilla 3D Printing Studio.

EI: As a doctor, why did you decide to dedicate yourself to 3D printing?
“The master’s degree I have is a postgraduate degree, which I think only I have at Columbia, which is related to art and technology for medicine, and when I discovered the whole field that has 3D printing for medicine, I decided to buy some machines on an affordable price and start assembling my own project, researching, informing myself, acquiring software skills, also hardware skills that are machines, so I gradually entered this world and I already have a project called Zygoma3D and the idea is to plan soon to print implants and in the near future to do 3D bioprinting as well”.

EI: What is the purpose of this project?
“Ideally I would like it to be for scientific and technical purposes only, but everything has to have sustainability and revenue, so I have commercial claims as well, but I have to go in parts.” For example, I have a research contract with the Sion Clinic in Bogotá, which is an important research center in Colombia, and a few years ago I won a call with them, I am a researcher in the field of new technologies for the clinic, and I am professionally connected with the pharmaceutical industry, with clinics, with hospitals and, well, I’m a doctor. The idea, apart from helping patients and the technological development of these applications, is to have a commercial interest to keep the company going.”

This is a replica of Jaime Bonilla’s skull made from medical images digitized and then 3D printed. With a model like this, this technology contributes to medical education.

EI: Did you get support?
“So far I have only two calls where Zygoma3D has already participated and won, one is the one made by Sion Clinic, which is for research and private money. Public money is the recently won call for an in-kind incentive to expand the number of machines. This call is called ‘Creation is not enough’ which is for innovation patents from the Ministry of ICT’.

EI: What does it take to make 3D printed anatomical models?
“Basically, you need medical imaging, be it CT or MRI, and experience with the segmentation software and the printer. In the case of 3D bioprinting, there is another separate process, how to culture the cells, make the bioinks and maintain a sterile environment to avoid tissue contamination.”

To apply 3D printing in medicine, you must have knowledge of anatomy, medical imaging, segmentation software, and technical training to operate and maintain 3D printing machines.

“3D bioprinting promises to print organs that can be transplanted, so eventually it is expected to implant a liver, a kidney, a cornea or any other organ of the body,” Jaime Bonilla, a general practitioner with a master’s degree in medical arts.

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