The FDA very recently approved the first non-metal 3D printed polymer for human implantation, the OsteoFab Patient Specific Cranial Device (OPSCD) from Oxford Performance Materials. Being “Patient Specific,” an MRI scan is used to acquire the exact shape of the patient’s skull in order to print the best-fit implant. OPM isn’t the only company performing patient specific 3D printing services; though not intended for direct implantation, Materialise’s HeartPrint service yields anatomically correct cardiovascular 3D prints.
Using their Mimics Innovation Suite (MIS) software, Materialise creates customized cardiovascular models from patient medical scans. They’ll take CT or MRI DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) files, but you can also order off-the-shelf hearts and valves of other people from a continually expanding catalog, which doesn’t sound at all weird. What makes these models so valuable is that they can be printed in multi-material formats through HeartPrint Flex. Though Flex is proprietary to Materialise, Objet printers are used, so translucent models that are both rigid and flexible are possible. Such models can accurately exhibit the presence of healthy tissue and calcified valves and vessels. So these models aren’t just for show, though they’re great for that as far as education goes; they can also be used for serious research applications like flow tests. Additionally, the models can be used for interventional preparation and testing, and customizing surgery recovery therapies to the patient. Materialise will even print logos into the hearts for marketing purposes.
There are a number of applications that I didn’t mention, but I’m curious as to how this technology will advance. Materialise has an arsenal of 3D printing services geared toward serving the medical industry, so I wonder how long it’ll be before they start incorporating bioprinting. If those HeartPrints were printed in sugar and then placed into a cell bath, would a beating heart come out? No, because that’s a severe oversimplification of how blood vessels are being printed. But still, I expect that someone way smarter than me will do something quite similar not too long from now.