3D printing technology – projected to be a $3 billion business by 2016 – is rapidly evolving, particularly in the medical space. Indeed, 3D printed orthopedic implants were recently fitted in Peking’s University Third Hospital in Beijing, while doctors at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan successfully transplanted 3D printed bones into four patients with cervical spine (cervical) disc herniation.
Similarly, 3D printing tech helped Doctors at the First Affiliated Hospital of Xi’an Jiaotong University repair a patient’s damaged skull in China, while researchers at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology used 3D printing technology to create living human kidneys. And now scientists at Nottingham Trent University and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS (UK) Trust are developing an electronic smart pump to help victims of chronic heart failure.
Essentially, the device creates a counter blood-flow by ‘beating’ out of phase with the diseased heart. When the heart fills with blood, the woven tube contracts to increase pressure in the heart. When the heart then pumps oxygenated blood around the body, the tube expands to release the pressure and increase the blood flow. Using 3D printing techniques, the smart pumps will be tailored for individual patients based on MRI scan data. The smart pump – powered by a battery implanted in the patient’s body – is also expected to be entirely self-contained.
“This device could really be groundbreaking and more effective than any other therapy currently being used around the world. Chronic heart failure is a major health challenge and up to 40 per cent of sufferers die within the first year,” Dr. Philip Breedon of Nottingham Trent University explained.
“The best form of treatment is a heart transplant, but the demand by far outweighs the supply . The technology currently used to help people with acute heart failure can only be used for a few days and involves the patient being attached to large external machines which need to be plugged into the mains power supply. [However], the smart aortic graft has the potential to not only extend a patient’s life, but also to provide them with mobility and comfort.”
As previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the DIY Maker Movement has used Atmel-powered 3D printers like MakerBot and RepRap for some time now. However, 3D printing recently entered a new and exciting stage in a number of spaces including the medical sphere, architectural arena, science lab and even on the battlefield.