Reshaping health with 3D printers

3D printing is still widely regarded as a novelty, but its impact on healthcare is likely to show how it may dramatically reshape our world

Some call it the Third Industrial Revolution, a change in how things are made that is so profound it may seriously disrupt industries businesses and governments. The coming revolution of 3D printing, or Additive Manufacturing will undoubtedly change our lives and is likely to have a considerable impact on current methods of creating products and organizing businesses. 

One of the biggest impacts of 3D printing will be in the healthcare field.  Dr Adam Moroz is a Senior Research Fellow at De Montfort University’s School of Engineering, Media and Sustainable Development. He is also part of the Additive Manufacturing Technology Group with more than 25 years of research experience in biophysics and biochemistry. 

The specialisms of Dr Moroz give an insight into the enormous web 3D Printing is casting over so many different scientific fields. Dr Moroz has worked at the Research Institute for Biochemistry for about 15 years exploring dependencies like alcohol and drugs, and molecular biophysics. ‘I joined De Montfort University because the former Head of the Additive Manufacturing Technology Group thought that the Biomedical applications of this 3D print technology and additive manufacturing technologies had a lot of prospects.’ 

The next generation of bone implants

Dr Moroz was interested in applying this technology to develop a new generation of bone implants. This new technology could control the porosity of the internal structure – it has the capacity to customize structure and material.  With this 3D print technology in mind, he began to develop work around possible processes of integration of the implant into the bone. He became interested in the possibility of remodelling bones with bone scaffolds that could be manufactured with 3D printing. 

They are currently developing a new process in additive manufacturing technology by which the layering is done through the printing. ‘The position of the layer on the platform is very important. Less than a year ago we finished a project on how to form this layer based on laser printing technology. The conventional laser printer deposits a tiny layer of black powder and later this powder is fixed to the paper surface. We tried to apply this technology to deposit not just one layer but numerous layers. It is very novel.’ 

Additive Manufacturing often involves working in parallel fields and areas at once. So another current project he is working on with colleagues is the developing of sensors which, ‘can be printed on the implant.’ 

Print your own pharmaceuticals

Healthcare is clearly an area where 3D printing may have a large and unforeseeable impact. In cubed, we reported recently on consultant Adrian Sugar and the work by the Maxillofacial unit at Morriston Hospital in Wales. With CT scan images they created custom-made Titanium implants for reconstructive facial surgery – the first time it has been done following an injury. 

Professor Lee Cronin, Regius Chair of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow caused a stir when he and his team of researchers announced they had developed a process which potentially could enable people to print their own pharmaceuticals at home. 

3D printing may have a media wow factor, but these medical applications of 3D technologies will change the way we understand health, our bodies, and  the nature of illness.