3D printing dates back nearly 30 years but has rapidly taken off as computational technology has advanced. Today, 3D printing in additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping is one of the tech industry’s hottest sectors.

In one of the latest 3D breakthrough areas, it’s become clear that what the technology successfully does for industrial materials, it also can do for biomaterials. The outcome could be nothing short of miraculous, representing a link to cures for diseases like cervical cancer, which annually claims more than 250,000 lives.

  • Organovo and CAD giant Autodesk in 2012 announced an alliance to develop the sophisticated molecular design and simulation software required for engineering living systems.
  • Scientist-friendly CAD programs would relieve researchers from writing and debugging code or having to hire specialized staff to do it for them.
  • Although the companies have stated that full-fledged organs are far into the future, they anticipate that there could be simple tissue-based products in clinical trials within a decade.

Preventing Cervical Cancer
CryoPop is a low-cost medical device that uses dry ice to treat pre-cancerous lesions, being designed at Jhpiego, a not-for-profit affiliate of Johns Hopkins University. Its development team has leaped numerous hurdles along the way, a major one being how to economically test small but critical design modifications.

  • Initial prototypes were easily built printing polystyrene on a 3D device. However, as the project progressed, more precision was needed. The team turned to stereolithography, which results in a much finer level of detail by dispensing thinner layers of materials.
  • Project Manager Martin Varady expects the team’s final product to use a combination of classic injection molding and drawn tubing manufacturing. They theorize that stereolithography may not allow the durability needed to withstand extreme conditions that CryoPop will undergo, including repeated immersion in chlorine and disinfectants for sterilization. But as they work through final product development stages, there’s no doubt that the latest 3D printing technology has played a critical role.

3D Bioprinting
Just as inkjet printers ran clunky dot-matrix printers off the road in the 1980s, 3D bioprinting may have what it takes to advance painstaking drug development methods that rely on lab animals and traditional cell culture. This technology reimagines the concept of additive manufacturing for cell biology, using custom software and precise cell deposition technology to convert the cells of a clinical tumor specimen into a living, architecturally accurate model of human tissue.

The goal is to help scientists find new drugs faster than the speed of cancer, without having to wait and wonder if they’ll work in humans as they do in mice.

  • Inkjet printing is the deposition of a layer of ink on paper in user-programmed patterns including shapes, images and fonts. Bioprinting uses the same principles except that instead of ink, the material used is a quantity of human cells, also known as bio-ink. A petri dish or micro slide replaces paper, and the patterns used are computer-generated renderings of tissue and other scientific architectures.
  • A 3D effect is achieved as bioprinters stack multi-patterned cell layers into tissue. Then, the principles of biology take over and cells grow into a network of living tissue in a shape defined by engineers.

Is it any wonder that this technology was deemed one of Time magazine’s Top 10 inventions of 2010?

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