Modern medicine has never coincided as much with manufacturing engineering as it has in recent years with the maturation of 3D printing and additive manufacturing. As medicine moves forward with many advancements in life science and biological research, many academic institutions move forward with new technological developments that continue to serve as game changers for the medical community. Let's look at some recent developments from the halls of academia who used 3D printing to create a technological advancement that will change people's lives now and into the future.
Making Prosthetic Hands
At Utah Valley University (UVU), a mechanical engineering student embraced the utility of additive manufacturing and printed prosthetic hands using a 3D printer for children in need in the Philippines and South America. Along the way he engaged a non-profit called Enabling the Future. Through the organization, a network of prosthetic hand fabricators grew. With 3D printing the prosthetic hands could be made for a mere $10 and sent to places throughout the world where children could benefit from them.
Matt Thomas, the UVU student who began this journey credits his mother as a motivator for all he did. She worked for many years as a head nurse at the University of Utah hospital, Intensive Care Unit. Because she had Type 1 diabetes, she was at a higher health risk for COVID. As a result of COVID she ran into health problems from a heart attack and eventually died. Her unrelenting dedication to helping people and especially children guided Thomas to do good where he was planted - in the mechanical engineering curriculum at UVU, using 3D printing.
A Printed COVID Patch
COVID has been a detriment, and at the same time it has provided the backdrop for much advancement in technology. As COVID-19 took full engagement, and virus distribution became a paramount concern, Joseph DeSimone, an expert in precision drug delivery and 3D printing technology at Stanford University came up with an idea for a 3D-printed vaccine patch.
DeSimone, PhD, is a professor of radiology and of chemical engineering knew the pathways of a vaccine through various dermal layers. He also had experience with 3D-printed microneedle patches used to deliver substances to the skin. With some dedicated research and development, he published a paper on a vaccine patch prototype. In his paper he explained that a patch would be less invasive, more effective in its immune response, and more economical overall.
His laboratory at Stanford had 3D printers that were 50-times more precise than commercial printers. He had used those printers to make micro needle patches, and subsequently, to make a vaccine patch. The patches are about a 1-by-1-centimeter square with a 10-by-10 grid of microneedles. 3D printing afforded the flexibility of increasing the surface area of the needles. It also allowed them to vary the geometry and configuration of the patch to make it easier to administer the vaccine.
In an article on the university's web site, DeSimone explained that this development changes the way vaccines can be administered. Overall, he believed, it can potentially change the face of public health. Says DeSimone: "With our 3D printers, we hope to create microneedles that are cage-like pyramidal structures that can protect the vaccine cargo (what's mean to be delivered to the skin) on the inside. We're also adding mechanical properties that turn the structures into minipumps. No one's ever made things like this before. These designs could make microneedles a robust and reliable method of drug or vaccine delivery."
Printing a Tiny Heart to Help Conquer Heart Disease
Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and it's been so for nearly a decade. Every 36 seconds, someone dies from disease linked to coronary arteries and the human heart. Researchers are on a constant journey to find better drugs, implants, procedures, and even replacements to help keep many alive longer who fall to the woes of coronary artery disease.
3D printing is indirectly helping with that effort by providing researchers with a miniature heart that is so lifelike that it provides an accessible model for heart researchers to best study, experiment, and find solutions that may be used to cure people of heart disease.
A collaborative team of engineers, biologists, and geneticists at Boston University built a miniature replica of a heart chamber from a combination of nanoengineered parts and human heart tissue. The heart model just may serve as the on-ramp to permanent solutions and effective treatments of coronary artery and heart disease.
3D printing was used to print its small components. Using a process called two-photon direct laser writing it enabled more precision in 3D printing the tiny parts. Light beams into a liquid resin. What it touches turns solid. Light can be aimed and turned most accurately and create tiny micron-sized particles.
These are just a small snapshot of the many ways that additive manufacturing and 3D printing is advancing technology. The advancements are taking place in direct and indirect ways and allow medical professionals to find solutions to medical challenges and human conditions that remain unsolved. It's another acknowledgment of how the mechanics and wonderment of 3D printing stands to be one of the greatest assets scientists have nowadays as its capability comes to the forefront of medical research.