A new role for 3D printing in medicine

Laura Galloway explains how advanced 3D printing is reshaping medicine and life sciences.

The 3D printing industry has been gaining momentum over the past 15 years and continues to evolve as new technologies and materials enter the marketplace. According to a Global Data report, some US$20 billion in global spending is expected to be devoted to 3D printing by 2025, nearly three times as much as in 2017. Once used primarily for prototyping, there is a growing use case for 3D printing technology to replace traditional manufacturing, particularly in industries that require a very high degree of precision in their parts. More industries, such as medtech, life sciences and even aerospace and defence, are tapping into additive manufacturing and recognising the value of incorporating the use of these technologies in design and production. Here are some of the ways high-precision 3D printing is transforming the life sciences and medtech industries.

Revolutionising Skin Cancer Treatment

In the dynamic landscape of skin cancer treatment, IMcoMET Medtech, a pioneering biotech startup, is breaking new ground with the innovative use of 3D printed microneedles. Focused on advancing immunotherapy for skin cancer, IMcoMET’s technology, known as the microneedle-Duo (M-Duo), is reshaping the approach to tumour treatment.

The M-Duo goes beyond conventional methods by allowing the precise physical removal of the microenvironment surrounding the tumour, along with all its components. This approach paves the way for the replacement of diseased tissue with healthy counterparts, marking a significant milestone in the battle against skin cancer. Integral to the success of this small-scale yet impactful design is the advanced 3D printing technology provided by Boston Micro Fabrication (BMF).

Leveraging BMF’s open-source micro 3D printing platform, IMcoMET was able to bring the M-Duo to life by having the ability to 3D print 2 channels 100µm in diameter, positioned in parallel at only 20-40µm distance from each other holding the microneedles in place.

The collaboration with BMF signifies a departure from traditional 3D printing methods, as the technology uses high-precision optics to achieve unparalleled accuracy and precision. The high-precision capabilities of BMF’s printers bridge the gap between classic and cutting-edge technologies. This partnership not only underscores the potential of 3D printing in medical advancements but also heralds a new era in the quest to conquer skin cancer.

Lab on a Chip Technology

Microfluidics, also known as lab on a chip technology, has revolutionised the field of scientific research and analysis. This cutting-edge technique involves the manipulation and control of minute amounts of fluids, typically on the scale of microlitres or even nanolitres, within a small chip. One of the key advancements in microfluidics has been the integration of 3D printing technology. This innovation allows for the rapid and precise fabrication of intricate microfluidic devices, enabling researchers to create complex channels, valves and chambers with ease.

BMF is exploring microfluidic applications at its San Diego Research Institute, aiming to scale the work to power next-gen scientific research. The marriage of microfluidics and 3D printing has opened up a world of possibilities in various fields, including biomedical, chemical and environmental sciences. It has paved the way for faster, cost-effective and customisable solutions, ultimately propelling scientific discoveries and advancements to new heights.

Complex Medical Procedures

These high-precision 3D printed parts also play a pivotal role in surgical robots, particularly
in scopes and surgical instruments. Scopes feature miniature cameras, optics and lighting components within a very small package, while the broader category of surgical instruments includes various devices held in a robot’s end effector, enabling effective interaction with patients. Although precision is crucial for facilitating minimally invasive procedures, it is just one element to consider. Soft tissue contact in surgical robots necessitates 3D printed parts with biocompatible and sterilisable materials, impeccably smooth surfaces and the flexibility to seamlessly integrate with non-3D printed components, such as sensors and actuators.

RNDR Medical, comprised of skilled medical device experts, recently partnered with BMF to launch a novel single-use scope for endourology. This scope facilitates direct visualisation and navigation for diagnosing and treating urinary tract disorders such as kidney stones and urothelial carcinoma, as well as pyeloscopy procedures. This collaboration reduced production time by half and allowed for rapid design iteration.

On the Horizon

From overhauling skin cancer treatment with IMcoMET Medtech’s M-Duo to lab on a chip technology, high-precision 3D printing is reshaping medical practices. The application of 3D printing in complex medical procedures, particularly in robot-assisted surgery, highlights its crucial role in achieving precision and facilitating minimally invasive procedures.

As we delve into this new era, the seamless integration of 3D printed parts with non-3D printed components signals not only a technological leap but also a promising future for medical innovations. The journey beyond boundaries continues, fuelled by the endless possibilities that advanced 3D printing brings to the forefront of medicine and life sciences.

Laura Galloway is with Boston Micro Fabrication.

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