With this application, the part was split up automatically into 2D layers, and those cross sections were sent to the 3D printer, where a laser beam melted successive thin layers of titanium powder, which fused together to form the part. This process was repeated with each cross-section melted to the previous layer, and it took 33 layers to build just 1mm of height. Once the part was 3D printed, the part was treated with a bioceramic coating to make it look and feel more like a human bone.
LayerWise believes this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how additive manufacturing (AM) can be applied to advanced medical implant design. "AM's freedom of shape allows the most complex freeform geometries to be produced as a single part prior to surgery," said Dr. Peter Mercelis, managing director of LayerWise, in a press release. "Patient-specific implants can potentially be applied on a much wider scale than transplantation of human bone structures and soft tissues. The use of such implants yield excellent form and function, speeds up surgery and patient recovery, and reduces the risk for medical complications."
I agree, Ann. While there's lot of research out there as to the potential, there are far to many unknowns and not fully evolved capabilities to make printing 3D organs a reality. Nice to know there is money and research time being devoted to this cause, however. Once we succeed, it will make some signficant changes in people's lives.
I think it will be quite a long time before we can print organs. First we have to be able to create them by duplicating their functions, and I don't think we're very close to that, let alone 3D printing them.
I personally have experience with titanium implants; just four months ago, I had three of my lowest vertebrea fused to my sacrum (L3 through S1). I now have eight screws, which thread through carriers, which are then held together with two vertical pins.
They expect the screws/hardware to loosen up over time, so at the time of surgery, they pulled bone marrow from my hip, and inject that into an organic sponge material and promote new bone growth between the vertebrea (disks removed) and along the titanium hardware. In days past, and still at some hospitals, they used to harvest full sections of bone from the patient's hip, or use cadaver bone to promote new bone growth. There were always problems with the patient's body rejecting the implanted bone, especially if it was harvested from a cadaver. This is not a surgery that I want to repeat due to bone rejection.
It was a long surgery and painful recovery, but I can't believe how much of my life I have back already! I have a long (10") vertical scar where they entered the back, but it is in a location that is normally covered. The x-rays are cool though, with the titanium glowing white relative to the soft tissue and bone.
Overall, it has been a positive, abliet expensive, experience, since I can tie my own shoes again. Only three days/two nights in the hospital. The only drawback so far is the extra waiting to get through security at the airport:( Thank goodness for body scanners!
Yes, I saw the home health care in action last week. I have a friend who was "admitted" to the hospital at home when a gallbladder operation resulted in a serious infection. He was monitored from home with visits from health professionals. We'll likely see more of that in coming years.
Rob: I agree with you that medical technology will be the "space program of the next decade." Patient monitoring -- thanks to new sensors and smart bandages -- will change the way medicine is practiced. The doctor's office could go the way of the house call.
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