3D printing, tissue engineering and the future of surgery

Sombit Mishra

baby after cleft surgery“Making a windpipe or trachea is uncharted territory...It has to be rigid enough to withstand coughs, sneezes and other shifts in pressure, yet flexible enough to allow the neck to move freely. With 3D printing, we were able to construct 3D printed scaffolding that the surgeons could immediately examine and then we could work together in real time to modify the designs. MakerBot was extremely helpful and consulted on optimizing our design files so they would print better and provided advice on how to modify the MakerBot Replicator 2X Experimental 3D Printer to print with PLA and the biomaterial.”

~Dr. Todd Goldstein, Feinstein Institute for Medical Research

The New York Times just featured an awesome story showcasing how a team from Boston Children's Hospital used 3D printing to successfully coordinate surgery for a baby girl with a rare defect called a Tessier facial cleft.  The Tessier cleft is a condition where the child is born with no cartilage in the nose and the bones in the face do not fuse properly, causing the eyes to be set too wide.  

Another surgical team from the North Shore-LIJ Health System in NY used the relatively inexpensive MakerBot 3D printer ($1,000-$10,000/printer) to construct a tracheal segment for reconstructive surgery.  Combined with tissue engineering, the team succeeded in creating custom tracheal segments that utilized living cells tailored to the precise anatomy of the patient.  

One of the incredible advantages of 3D Printing is that care teams can make custom prints on demand rather than sending out prototypes to a commercial printer and waiting weeks to receive the results.

Once upon a time, the cost of 3D printing was prohibitive with each printer costing a minimum of $100,000.  Today, the costs are coming down dramatically and the ability to customize prints/prototypes is only getting better.  

This convergence of low-cost technology, cellular-level/tissue reconstruction, and software, truly represent the future of disruptive, affordable medicine.