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3D printing medical implants

Model 3D-printed silicone trachea implant. Credit: University of Florida

Medical procedures often make use of plastic implants, like catheters and valves. These are mass market produced,in a few sizes to accommodate different patients, but still they are not customised to a specific patient. The production uses molding processes, these are very efficient in volume production but would be extremely costly if one were to use them for customised production. Besides, it would take a lot of time to set up the molding process for a specific person.

This may change in the near future thanks to the results obtained at the University of Florida by a team of researchers that have found a way to 3D print soft silicon. The results are reported in an open article on Science Advances. 3D printing can create an implant that is tailored to that specific person needing the implant and can do that in a matter of hours if not minutes. Also, consider that implants for children needs to be replaced frequently as they grow up.

Take a look at the clip showing the 3D printing in action, and at the one showing a 3D printed silicon valve.

An interesting perspective, at the edge of science fiction, is to be able in a not distant future to use customised implants as scaffolding to regrow organs, like the pancreas and the prostate. Scientists are unlocking the mystery of cells regeneration, specialisation and organisation (what it takes to grow an organ), are now getting closer to explain why a lizard can regrow its tail whilst we cannot regrow a hand… (it is about genes and their activation). This knowledge combined with technologies like this one may revolutionise medicine in the fourth decade of this century.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.

One comment

  1. i completely agree, 3D printing is anticipated to revolutionize medicine in the coming future. Having working for a 3D printing services firm, our clients who are into medicine and science field are already trying to make body implants. For now 3D printed bone, dental implants have been greatly successful. We are hoping one fine day, 3D printed vital organs can be transplanted in the patients who require it and it can significantly reduce the death rates who die of damaged or vital organ failure.