Researchers at Saga University in Japan have just announced a major breakthrough in medical technology. These researchers, in tandem with startup company Cyfuse Biomedical, have successfully 3D printed human blood vessels.
This advancement will no doubt have major repercussions in the medical field. The ability to 3D print body parts, let alone aspects of the human biome that are so miniscule and complex as blood vessels, will make it possible to save the lives of millions of people who otherwise may have died or suffered due to harmful medical conditions.
As defined by 3dprinting.com, 3D printing is the "process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created."
Researchers at Saga University were able to use the skin cells from a patient to create blood vessels compatible with that patient's body. The ability to successfully print arteries will make coronary bypass surgery and dialysis treatment much simpler, much less invasive, and most likely safer than these procedures were before such a technology existed. Additionally, such technologies could theoretically be used for much more than creating human blood vessels.
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As an article from 3ders.org points out, not only is such technology legal in other countries (including the United States, China, and Singapore), but it is also patented and currently under intense research. The article goes on to explain exactly how the printer is able to successfully print such nuanced objects as human blood cells: "In order to reproduce the 3D shape of vascular tissue, the research team adds numerous 10 mm long, 0.1 mm diameter metal needles on the 3D printer. By adjusting needles' length and quantity researchers could change the thickness of blood vessels. The team has successfully printed 2-3mm diameter blood vessels in 10 days time using this needle array system."
Dr. Cesar Yepes, a highly experienced cardiologist who specializes in interventional, non-invasive cardiology, contends that such breakthroughs could change the face of modern medicine.
"Advancements in the field of medicine are exciting and allowing so many procedures to be safer and more effective,” he said. “3D printing is another advancement in a long line of technologies that have gone live in the last few years to innovate and make safer healthcare possible. They've been printing arteries for several years, but the capacity to print blood vessels was not possible until recently.
“It is arguably a more important advancement not only for the product itself, but to say we have the capacity to print something effectively that is so small, is exciting in and of itself," he continues.
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As for the future of the medical industry and how it could be affected by 3D printing technology, Dr. Cesar Yepes seems optimistic.
"Who knows what's next,” he mused. “3D printing microscopic living organisms like blood cells or platelets? It seems that anything is possible."
For now, however, human beings will not undergo procedures that rely on 3D printed blood vessels for at least four years. As 3D printing blog 3D Printer Plans points out, "Saga’s Medical School Faculty of Medicine is currently evaluating transplantation of their 3D printed blood vessels in animals. Human therapy will begin in 2018 after a number of clinical trials are successfully completed. The vessels are and will be used for artificial dialysis and transplantation in coronary artery bypass surgery."
Considering the rate at which these innovations are moving, the predictions of medical experts like Dr. Cesar Yepes may soon come to pass. It seems safe to say that by 2020, 3D printed body parts will be a standard tool for doctors to use while treating patients.