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3D Printing

3D Printing

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3D-printer is a printing device that constructs three-dimensional objects. Budmen and Rotolo, in their work The Book on 3D Printing, write, “In 1984, Charles Hull developed a technology of printing the three-dimensional objects to play with digital data, and two years later gave the name of a patented technique – stereolithography” (21). At the same time, the first commercial 3D printer was designed and built. 3D printing now reaches great heights. It has never been so easy to make different prototypes as it is now. Moreover, using a 3D printer, it is possible to print a working gun, for example. Using 3D printers in medicine is also very effective. Currently, the development of a multifunction 3D printer can bring numerous positive results. For instance, it can enable printing living organs such as the heart, kidneys, or liver, and make a revolutionary breakthrough in the medical industry.

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The Origin of Bioprinting

In addition to the metal and plastic, doctors and scientists load the 3D printers with human cells and print living tissues. This process is known as bioprinting. Bioprinting is a relatively new possibility that has appeared due to the rapid evolution of the additive technologies. The first printers were far from perfect. For the early experiments, researchers used conventional desktop inkjet devices (Budmen and Rotolo 22). In 2000, bioengineer Thomas Boland reconfigured the desktop printers Lexmark and HP for printing the DNA fragments (Budmen and Rotolo 22). It was found that the size of human cells is similar to the standard size of the ink droplet and is approximately 10 microns (Budmen and Rotolo 22). The studies have shown that 90% of cells remain viable in the process of bioprinting (Budmen and Rotolo 23). In 2003, Thomas Boland patented the technology of printing cells (Budmen and Rotolo 23). Since then, printing a 3D printer has ceased to be a fantasy. In as little as decades, private study in thelaboratory has turned into a rapidly expanding industry that is used to print ears, heart valves, pipes, vessels, as well as reconstruct bones and skin, for the subsequent transplantation. The first successful experiment was made in 2006 (Groopman 1). According to Groopman, a group of bioengineers from Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine has developed and printed bladders for seven patients (2). Doctors have used stem cells from the patients to create an artificial organ. With the help of a special airtight chamber created by an extruder, samples of the donors’ tissues were put on the top layout bladder and heated to the natural temperature of a human body. After 6-8 weeks of intensive growth and subsequent division, cells have reproduced a human organ (Groopman 2).  Today, a few companies use 3D printers for bioprinting. In Bioprinting World, Benvin asserts that the greatest success was achieved by the American company Organovo that managed to print a liver tissue (1). Biomedical engineers use several methods of printing organs. On the one hand, the printer can create a plastic model of the body, which is then covered with human cells. On the other hand, the device can produce cells in a special gel based on collagen, which binds the parts together. For a few weeks, the cells are growing in plastic or collagen forms. After the injection into the body, the forms are destroyed, leaving only a human tissue. In the case of children, it means that the tissue can grow with them, eliminating the need for subsequent operations associated with the development of the body.

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Advantages of 3D Printing in Medicine

The Oxford Performance Materials, CT, reported a successful operation that has helped a patient to receive the implanted piece of the skull after an accurate model has been created with the help of a 3D scanner (Benvin 1). This model took into account all individual characteristics of the structure of the patient’s skull and the nature of the injury. Consequently, it allowed developing an ideal implant. The printed skull is not a monolithic piece of plastic; it consists of 23 bones that make up the skull (Benvin 1). The manufacture of such a skull has lasted for two weeks after it was scanned (Benvin 2). Now, the technology helps many people with brain injuries. It is interesting why 3D printing is so effective. A tissue that is created on a 3D printer is similar to a conventional print but, instead of various colors, different types of cells are used. In The New Yorker, Groopman states that to create a prototype of an artificial liver, for example, specialists have to use three types of cells: hepatocytes, stellate cells, and epithelial cells lining the blood vessels (2). The cells in artificial tissues begin to form full-fledged contacts, produce albumin and cytochrome, and perform other functions of a liver. These data indicate the reliability of the research results. Moreover, artificial tissue can exist autonomously for five days; meanwhile, the cell culture requires a transfer every two or three days. A team of scientists from the Cornell University (USA) is developing a methodology for the reconstruction of a damaged intervertebral disc with the help of a 3D printer (Groopman 2). For this purpose, scientists use a special material with a high content of stem cells (Groopman 2). The 3D printer will run with this material. Once stem cells come into contact with the cells native to the intervertebral disc, they transform into an appropriate tissue and restore the damaged areas. Scientists have already conducted experiments on rats (Groopman 2). This methodology in itself was tested by approximately 100 patients, and the health of each one improved (Groopman 2). The most interesting and intriguing fact is that the complete destruction of the disk lab can create an entirely new drive that will be perfect to the spine of a particular patient. This process is a true revolution in the treatment of diseases of the back; millions of people are potential users of such a procedure.

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