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Rare Diseases: 3D Printing Can Save Lives

April 1, 2015


This is the first Blog Post in a series that examines how 3D (3 Dimensional) printing technology is being used in different medical applications to help those with rare diseases.

I – What is 3D Printing?

3D printing, or Additive Manufacturing (AM), creates 3D solid object prototypes from 2D (2 Dimensional) digital images. 3D printing:

·   Takes 2D digital input (CAD Model) or virtual blueprints

·   “Slices” it into digital cross-sections

·   Is then input to a 3D printer that creates a solid, 3D object through an additive, layer by layer process, based on the digital cross-sections.

3D printing has been around for more than three decades, used mostly in the manufacturing industry. It is in the last 15 years, that there has been a growth in the use of 3D printing for medical applications.

II – 3D Printing & Personalized Medicine

In September 2014, the FDA publishes a Report, “Paving the Way for Personalized Medicine: FDA’s Role in a New Era of Medical Product Development”, that describes the different ways in which the FDA has worked to respond to, anticipate, and help drive scientific developments in personalized or precision therapeutics and diagnostics. The strength of personalized medicine is the capability to individualize or customize to a patient’s unique needs and requirements:

Personalized Medicine = Diagnostic Device + Therapeutic Product.

For example, 3D printing is used to create personalized medical devices based on imaging of a patient’s anatomy. In the FDA Report, a case study is presented where 3D printing is used to create a bioresorbable tracheal splint for treating a critically-ill infant:

“Physicians at the University of Michigan and Akron Children’s Hospital utilized a computed tomography image, computer-aided design (CAD), and 3D printing to create a bioresorbable airway splint to treat a critically-ill infant with tracheobronchomalacia – a life-threatening condition that occurs when the airway walls are weak and the airways collapse during breathing or coughing. The “personalized” tracheal splint for the patient was constructed based on CT images … the device was “printed” by the 3D printer using polycaprolactone (PCL) …”.

III – 3D Printing Helps Girl With Rare Facial Defect

A January 2015 online New York Times article is a great story of how 3D printing can be used to help those with a rare disease.

Violet Pietrok, 2 years old, is born with a rare defect, a Tessier facial cleft, that leaves a fissure or gap in the skull behind her forehead. In preparation for Violet’s complicated surgery, 3D printed models of her skull are created, which will help the surgeons view and analyze the complex surgery. Per the New York Times article, 3D printing models:

“are transforming medical care, giving surgeons new perspectives and opportunities to practice, and patients and their families a deeper understanding of complex procedures. Hospitals are also printing training tools and personalized surgical equipment. Someday, doctors hope to print replacement body parts.”

Please Note: “Heart Printing” by Centromere121 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0] | Wikimedia Commons.

Copyright © 2012-2015, Orphan Druganaut Blog. All rights reserved.

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