Tag Archives: 3D Printing Medicine

Doctors create a trachea using a MakerBot 3D printer

3D printing has helped Feinstein Institute researchers create cartilage designed for tracheal repair or replacement.

It’s not so much a question as to if 3D printing will be an integral part of medical procedures in the future, it’s more so when. And apparently, we are closer than ever before. While we’ve seen everything from 3D-printed splints to prosthetics to organs, a team of researchers at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research has made yet another medical breakthrough using a MakerBot Replicator 2X.


This time, the scientists created cartilage designed for tracheal repair or replacement. Also known as the “windpipe,” the trachea is the tube that connects the upper respiratory tract to the lungs. Never before has a regular PLA filament been used to print custom tracheal scaffolding, not to mention combined with living cells to create a tracheal segment. Traditionally speaking, there has been two traditional means of reconstructing a damaged trachea — both of which present a number of constraints. Both treatments have involved removal of the affected tracheal segment.

As a solution to the growing problem, Feinstein Institute investigator Todd Goldstein along with Dr. Daniel A. Grande of the Orthopedic Research Laboratory inquired as to whether 3D printing could be a suitable alternative.

“Three-dimensional printing and tissue engineering has the potential for creation of a custom-designed tracheal replacement prosthesis in the lab so that the affected tracheal segment can be ‘swapped out’ instead of removed,” explained Goldstein. “Our results show that three-dimensional printing can be combined with tissue engineering to effectively produce a partial tracheal replacement graft in vitro. Our data demonstrate that the cartilage cells seeded on the graft retain their biological capability and were able to proliferate at the same rate as native cells.”

Similar to earlier efforts we’ve seen around bioresorbable splints that have saved the life of infants, The Feinstein Institute’s research combined two emerging fields: 3D printing and tissue engineering. Tissue engineering is like other kinds of engineering, except instead of using steel or computer code to make things, living cells from skin, muscle or cartilage are the raw material. Already knowing how to construct cartilage from a mixture of cells called chondrocytes, nutrients to feed them and collagen, a 3D printer can craft scaffolding, which can be covered in a mixture of chondrocytes and collagen, which then grows into cartilage.


“Making a windpipe or trachea is uncharted territory,” noted Goldstein. “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. We actually found designs to modify the printer on MakerBot’s Thingiverse website to print PLA with one extruder and the biomaterial with the other extruder.”

Demonstrating the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of Atmel based desktop 3D printers, The Feinstein Institute had previously sought out a number of machines that could extrude living cells; however, such devices run upwards of $180,000. This would be fine and dandy, except for the fact that the researchers hadn’t even proven the concept nor confirm it would indeed be a viable option. Luckily, the MakerBot Replicator 2X Experimental 3D Printer only set them back $2,500.

“The ability to prototype, examine, touch, feel and then redesign within minutes, within hours, allows for the creation of this type of technology,”  said Lee Smith, MD, Chief of Pediatric Otolaryngology at Cohen Children’s Medical Center. “If we had to send out these designs to a commercial printer far away and get the designs back several weeks later, we’d never be where we are today.”

Originally, the team thought that a special PLA would be required in order to maintain sterility and be dissolvable within the body. However, in light of time, they decided to try regular MakerBot PLA filament. Through testing, Goldstein found that the heat from the extruder head sterilized the PLA as it printed, so he was able to use ordinary MakerBot PLA Filament.


The process consisted of extruding bio-ink he bio-ink to fill the gaps in the PLA scaffolding, which transforms into a gel on the heated build plate. Once the bio-ink adheres to the scaffolding, it goes into a bioreactor to keep the cells warm and growing evenly.

“The research being done at the Feinstein Institute is exciting and promising,” noted Jenny Lawton, MakerBot CEO. “We are continually amazed by what is being created with 3D Printers. To know that a MakerBot Replicator 3D Printer played a role in a potential medical breakthrough is inspiring.”

The results of the study illustrate how the 3D printed windpipe or trachea segments held up for four weeks in an incubator. According to Mr. Goldstein’s abstract, “The cells survived the 3D printing process, were able to continue dividing, and produced the extracellular matrix expected of tracheal chondrocytes.” In other words, they were growing just like windpipe cartilage.

While the work still remains a proof-of-concept, the researchers still have their work ahead of them before establishing a new protocol for repairing damaged windpipes. According to Dr. Smith, at least one patient comes through the North Shore-LIJ Health System each year who can’t be helped by the two traditional methods. What’s more, he expects in the next five years to harvest a patient’s cells, grow them on a scaffolding, and repair a windpipe. This customized approach may prove to be especially useful for treating children.

“Do you remember the Six Million Dollar Man?” Dr. Grande asks. “The Bionic Man is not the future, it’s the present. We have that ability to do that now. It’s really exciting.”

The Maker Movement has used Atmel powered 3D printers, ranging from MakerBot to RepRap, for quite some time now — but it is abundantly clear that the next-gen technology is quickly entering a new and important stage. Interested in learning more? You can read all about the project on MakerBot’s official blog, as well as watch the video below.

3D printing helps save the life of a two-week-old baby

Surgeons at a New York hospital have credited 3D printing with helping to save the life of a two-week-old baby who required complicated heart surgery.


Using MRI scan data, surgeons at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital were able to 3D print a replica of the child’s heart, which was riddled with holes and structural abnormalities. Cognizant of the fact that surgery was going to be both complicated and dangerous, the 3D-printed heart provided the team of surgeons with an opportunity to better analyze the organ, and develop a detailed approach to the surgical procedure. The doctors were then able to rehearse extremely intricate surgeries on the tiny heart model, which is less than a third of the size of an adult hand.

“The baby’s heart had holes, which are not uncommon with CHD, but the heart chambers were also in an unusual formation, rather like a maze,” Dr. Emile Bacha, who performed the surgery told media. “In the past we had to stop the heart and look inside to decide what to do. With this technique, it was like we had a road map to guide us. We were able to repair the baby’s heart with one operation.”

The project was funded by Connecticut-based Matthew’s Hearts of Hope, a nonprofit organization aspiring to raise awareness around Congenital Heart Defects.

This is yet another example of the integral role the Maker Movement is continuing to play throughout the medical space. Just the other day, Kentucky surgeon Erle Austin attributed 3D printing with significantly increasing the likelihood of succeeding in the most difficult surgeries.

Similar to the team at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Austin had turned to 3D printing to inform his approach to heart surgery on a young child at Kosair Children’s Hospital.

“If I went in and did surgery, took off the front of the heart and did irreparable damage, the child would not survive.” Using an experimental version of the Atmel AVR powered Makerbot Replicator 2, Austin printed a copy of the heart in three parts: the front, the center and the back.

“It’s a relatively inexpensive printer costing $2,500 (£1,500),” Austin told Wiredwhen asked about the experimental version of the Makerbot Replicator 2. “We did it in three different parts […] and it’s really the middle that counts. Because I have an identical reconstruction I can take off the front of the heart and see inside of it and make a plan as to how I’m going to direct the flow of blood and move the [obstruction in the heart].

Ranging from splints to prosthetics, there are a large number of real-life success stories of implementing 3D printing to enhance complex medical procedures, while also improving the lives of those suffering from disabilities. In the future, Austin suggested, these techniques will prove to helpful in the training of surgeons, as well as aiding the communication between cardiologists and surgeons.


According to Cambridge-based market research firm IDTechEx, the medical and dental 3D printing industry will grow to be worth $867 million globally by 2025. And, while the United States is still pioneering this high-tech biomedical research, the National Health Service (NHS) is exploring the wide-range of uses of 3D printers in modern medicine.

Back in September, researchers at Nottingham Trent University even used 3D printing to produce a prosthetic human heart which was said to be “as close as you can get” to the real thing.

In time, we can surely expect to see a growing number of scientists, researchers and medical professionals explore the unlimited possibilities — a majority of which are powered by AVR XMEGAmegaAVR and SAM3X8E MCUs — have to offer. That’s what we call making a difference!

3D printing helping kids overcome disabilities

A little boy in Hawaii born without fingers got a robotic hand thanks to 3D printing. According to KHON 2 News, three-year-old Rayden Kahae is a happy and loving child, but the boy they call “Bubba” has always been different from the rest of the neighborhood kids in Wailuku.

“Bubba” was born with the rare condition amniotic band syndrome (ABS), which causes fiber-like bands to form in the amniotic sac that can wrap around parts of the baby’s body, reducing blood supply and restricting normal growth.


As previously reported on Bits & Pieces, 3D printers (a majority of which are powered by AVR XMEGAmegaAVR and SAM3X8E MCUs) are inching closer and closer to mainstream — particularly throughout the medical world. In recent months, researchers have experienced a number of bioprinting marvels, from designing a 3D-printed splint that saved the life of an infant born with severe tracheobronchomalacia to surgically implanting a 3D-printed vertebrae into a 12-year-old cancer patient.

Bubba always knew he was different, but continued to flourish despite his disability, according to his grandmother, Rulan Waikiki. “He knew from earlier on when he could notice that his sister had two hands and he didn’t — that he always said he doesn’t like that hand he wanted one like [his sister],” the boy’s grandmother added.


Commercially made prosthetics used to cost up to $40,000, but with recent advancements in 3D printing technology, more affordable options have been made available to patients like Bubba. Earlier this year, Waikiki happened upon a website for the nonprofit group, E-Nable, which operates off donations and volunteers to provide 3D-printed prosthetics for patients at no cost. Last week, Bubba was selected as one of those patients.

“He wanted an ‘Ironman hand,’” Waikiki said. “As soon as he put it on and was able to close the hand, his face just lit up.”

Bubba, who will turn four in November, will be refitted for similar prosthetics as he grows.


This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, a youngster was given a second lease on life thanks to 3D printing. Last year, MakerBot printed a prosthetic device for a two-year-old girl in Huntsville, Alabama who born without four fingers on her left hand; while even more recently, Aaron Brown, a volunteer at E-nabling The Future, took things one step further by designing a set of fake Wolverine claws to make kids wearing prosthetics feel like superheroes.

“It was very early on this year, while studying 3D printing that I saw what the e-NABLE group was doing. I knew instantly and told my wife that I couldn’t own a 3D printer, let alone make plans to own many more and not do my part to help the cause. That’s when I built my first trial hand. A little snap together Robohand. Since then, I have just finished my 5th e-NABLE hand,the Wolverine Edition, and I am planning to make many more,” Brown writes.


The idea was brought to life for the Grand Rapids Maker Faire. Brown had modified e-NABLE’s free prosthetic hand plans, devising an edition with Wolverine-inspired “claws” he thought would appeal especially to children.

“The Comic loving nerd inside of me (along with some Facebook friends) said there is no way I can make a Wolverine hand without CLAWS…so I modeled some in Sketchup the morning before the makerfaire, printed ‘em, spray painted ‘em silver and velcro’d ‘em on there. Turned out pretty darn cool!”

As you can imagine, the superhero-themed prosthetic was a hit. Simply because one is missing a hand doesn’t mean you can’t be a superhero. The incredible response has inspired the Maker to consider and begin brainstorming other hero-themed prosthetics, including Batman, Iron Man and even Captain America.

This is surely another prime example of how the Maker Movement continues to make its mark, and ultimately, ‘make’ a difference.

Gartner: 3D printing still years away for most consumers

According to Gartner, mainstream adoption of 3D printers in consumer markets may still be five to ten years away, while the adoption of 3D printing for prototyping will accelerate through all industries over the next two years. As previously reported on Bits & PiecesGartner’s latest Hype Cycle predicts that the next major flux of 3D printing adoption will be in enterprise and medical applications over the next two to five years.


3D printing of medical devices will offer exciting, life-altering benefits that will result in global use of 3D printing technology for prosthetics and implants,” Gartner Analyst Pete Basiliere predicts. “Today, approximately 40 manufacturers sell the 3D printers most commonly used in businesses, and over 200 startups worldwide are developing and selling consumer-oriented 3D printers, priced from just a few hundred dollars.”

Looking even further into the future, Gartner notes that despite a variety of manufacturers producing consumer level printers and scanners, the price range still is too high for the everyday buyer. Despite increased media awareness, analysts don’t believe the process is prepared for immediate assimilation into the average consumer’s life. As a result, Gartner believes that it has identified “two main themes” at work throughout the field:

1. The market for enterprise 3D printing and the consumer market are only superficially similar. “Organizations are willing to experiment with consumer 3D printing devices because they are cheap but they quickly learn that much more professional, and therefore expensive, devices are needed if 3D printing is to be used in business on a daily basis.” However, recent reports have revealed that nearly 60% of enterprises have either begun using or are in the process of evaluating 3D printing.


2. 3D printing isn’t one technology but “seven different ones.” Hype around home use obscures the reality that 3D printing involves a complex ecosystem of software, hardware, and materials whose use is not as simple to use as ‘hitting print’ on a paper printer.

Even with more accessible desktop printers hitting the market, Gartner’s analysis substantiates the claim that 3D printing may not be ready for the sweeping consumer acceptance that some predict. Still, the research firm’s prognostications provide a bright future for the 3D printing industry; it just may take a little longer to materialize than planned. But don’t fret, you know what they say, good things come to those who wait!

FDA approves the first 3D-printed facial implants

As previously reported on Bits & Pieces, 3D printing continues its march into the mainstream medical world. Oxford Performance Materials (OPM) made news last year when it created a 3D-printed implant to replace 75% of a patient’s skull. The success of that operation laid the groundwork to move on to other bones, culminating in the recent FDA approval of its OsteoFab Patient-Specific Facial Device, a customizable implant for facial reconstruction. Today, we are sharing further evidence that the process is integrating itself deeper into our society as the FDA has approved a series of 3D printed facial implants. With the help of 3D printers, doctors can now produce an FDA-cleared replica of a patient’s missing skull or jawbone.

OPM has been at the forefront of the technology and additive materials for many years now. Last February, the FDA permitted OPM’s first design for a fully customizable 3D-printed cranial implant. Recently, their product, the OsteoFab® Patient-Specific Facial Device, also received 510(k) clearance from the FDA.


According to a recent press release, the facial device is the first and only FDA cleared 3D-printed polymeric implant for facial indications. “There has been a substantial unmet need in personalized medicine for truly individualized – yet economical – solutions for facial reconstruction. A technology did not exist that could treat the highly complex anatomy of these demanding cases,” notes Scott Defelice, CEO and Chairman of OPM.

There is no doubt that the intricacy and customizability of 3D printing will open doors to treat cases that were out of reach just a few years ago. “Having both cranial and facial devices cleared now enables us to answer ever more complex cases where upper facial structures can be incorporated with cranial implants as a single device,” adds OPM President Severine Zygmont. She also believes this combination will not only, “improve patient outcomes, but fundamentally improve the economics of orthopedics on a global scale – for developed and developing countries.”

The FDA’s approval also means orthopedics as a whole is set to benefit, given the previous successes with cranial implant devices. “These are disruptive changes that will allow the industry to provide the finest levels of healthcare to more people at a lower cost,” said Severine Zygmont, President of OPM Biomedical. The device is likely just the next in a long line of 3D-printed biomedical advances, coming on the heels of 3D-printed prosthetic limbs, blood vessels and windpipes. Synthetic replacements for the body’s normal bank of organs have existed for decades, and 3D printing is slated to optimize the existing process even further.

The worldwide orthopedic market has global revenues of more than $36 billion in 2008, Forbes reports. According to new research by Freedonia, the demand for implantable medical devices in the United States alone is projected to increase 7.7% annually to $52 billion in 2015. The study reported that orthopedic implants will be one of the fastest growing and nanotechnology and biotechnology will fuel growth and demand to the market.


So, as you can see, facial and cranial implants aren’t the only areas where the 3D printing process is infiltrating the medical community. Take for instance doctors at Peking University, who just recently implemented a 3D-printed vertebrae in a 12-year-old patient. The boy had a malignant tumor removed from his spine and the team replaced the cancerous section with a unique 3D-printed piece.

“Although the probability is very low, it is possible that under long-term pressure from inside the body, traditional implants might plug into bones gradually, or become detached from bones. But there will be no such problems for 3D-printed implants,” Liu Zhongun, Director of Orthopedics, endorsed the flexibility of the process to Forbes.

Ideally, 3D printing will allow for more patients to be treated on a customizable, case-by-case basis, allowing for a remarkable improvement in many areas of the medical field. Explore the other ways the next-gen technology has already proven its success throughout healthcare, for both humans and animals alike.

3D printing gives man a $100 bionic hand

As previously chronicled here on Bits & Pieces, today’s next-gen technologies continue to improve and sometimes even save the lives of accident victims. This story was yet another triumph for the Maker Movement making a difference. With the help of a $100 3D-printed design, one do-it-yourselfer has regained some of the ability to use his hands after an accident he suffered on the job.

Kamarata was a pipe fitter by trade, a home handyman by desire. One day last October, while working on an outdoor project, he had set up his miter saw. The piece he had was short, and he wanted to cut it into 2-inch sections; however, being right-handed, he guided the electric saw with that hand and held the wood in place with his left, near the cutting surface. Before he knew it, the saw caught the wood, throwing it toward Kamarata. His left hand slipped into the blade and just like that, four fingers just above the middle knuckles were gone.


With his fingers unable to be reattached after the incident, he was devastated that he’d no longer be able to use his hands to work. He then ran into a designer friend, Casey Barrett. In one conversation between the two, Kamarata expressed his disappointment in the high pricing of many top-notch prosthetics, which could run upwards of $40,000.

Barrett studied Howard’s issue and recalled some information he had previously seen online about 3D-printed prosthetics. Combining his friend’s cause and his own interest in 3D printing, Barrett decided to look deeper into the subject. He found some plans online and proceeded to produce a series of finger replacements. Each finger has 3-hinged digits and can slightly flex. The duo then took a glove purchased from Home Depot and some braided fishing line to assemble the complete hand. In all, the contraption cost less than $100 and provided priceless benefits to Robert.


“I was able to hold things again,” the handyman tells AZCentral.com. “I could pick up a water bottle.” While these may seem like trivial tasks, they are tremendous achievements for someone who thought they would never be able to utilize their hand again. After his success story, Robert has begun working with the RecFX Foundation to try and help others regain abilities through similar technology.

Researchers continue to explore the use of 3D printing for body parts, particularly those in which come in contact with the body but don’t enter the bloodstream — these include teeth, hearing aid shells, and prosthetic limbs.