Friday, December 06, 2013
This Is A Technology Trend That Could Really Make A Big Difference. Do Keep A Close Eye On It.
This appeared a little while ago.
By Sally Davies
Inside the pistachio-coloured walls of a London hospital, 16 fake eyeballs sit gleaming on a shelf next to a collection of noses. A man holds up a slice of green silicone in the shape of an ear.
“It’s a very early sample,” says Tom Fripp, managing director of Sheffield-based design consultancy Fripp Design and Research. The company is the first to directly print an object in medical grade silicone, a substance whose pliable texture is well-suited to soft tissue prosthetics.
In the next room London dentist and implant manufacturer Andrew Dawood shows a 3D printed copy of the vascular system of conjoined twins. They were separated in 2011 after doctors used Mr Dawood’s model to practice the surgery beforehand, improving the odds of success and reducing the risky time the patients spent under the knife.
The hospital where the medical products were on display was an ersatz affair at a November trade show. But their makers were serious about the importance of 3D printing – a group of novel production methods, also known as “additive manufacturing”, which build up objects layer by layer, instead of more traditional approaches such as carving them out from chunks of material.
“Whenever you have relatively small volumes of high value parts, that’s when it begins to make sense to use additive manufacturing,” says industry analyst Terry Wohlers, commenting on the medical sector.
The technology lends itself to customisation, and its evangelists claim it will lead to printing drugs and even organs. But British medical businesses, from dentistry to orthopaedics, are already using 3D printing to design highly personalised products.
Improvements in digital imaging have prompted the latest wave of 3D medical manufacturing innovation, says Thierry Rayna, a technology and economics expert at ESG Management School in Paris.
Mr Fripp’s consultancy is conducting early patient trials for nose prosthetics designed from patient scans. They are made from a hybrid process, different to that of the ear, in which silicone is forced into a 3D printed starch scaffold under pressure.
This cuts down production time from six weeks for a handmade version to 48 hours for a printed one. At £1,500, the first item costs as much as a standard prosthesis but falls to about a tenth of the cost for reprints from the digital file – a handy saving if the nose is damaged or if the patient’s skin-tone changes with a summer tan.
Lots more here:
This really is exciting stuff even now - but as we start to see actual real live organs being printed - which is already happening in the lab - it will be hard to imagine what next.
A must read to get a feel for the possibilities.
Posted by Dr David G More MB PhD at Friday, December 06, 2013