I have written a few times recently about the use of 3D printing in healthcare. For instance, a Harvard team have used 3D printing to produce a new material that they’re dubbing an ‘organ-on-a-chip’. The material is chock-full of sensors and is designed to mimic the behavior of the human heart.
The aim is to allow scientists to examine changes in tissue and cellular activity, and the 3D printing allows them to rapidly print each organ and begin using it to collect data. Ultimately, this will allow researchers to better model disease progression, and of course the effect of any drug on the body. Eventually it might even lead to the demise of animal testing as a requirement of the drug development process.
Perhaps the most interesting area is in the development of lifelike models that allow surgeons to practice before going onto the real thing.
One startup, called EchoPixel, are doing just that. They produce organs to allow surgeons to practice on lifelike things prior to going into the operating theater.
Researchers at the University of Washington believe that a similar approach could also prove invaluable for children born without an ear. The researchers have used 3D printing to create a low cost rib cartilage model that they believe accurately resembles the feel of the real thing to therefore allow surgeons to hone their craft.
The Living Heart Project
Along similar lines is the Living Hear Project, but they take things a step further to help in the creation of virtual simulators that are as realistic to the patient as possible, not just in the way they look and feel but the way they behave.
The project aims to bring together cardiovascular researchers, educators, medical device developers, regulatory agencies, and practicing cardiologists on a shared mission to develop and validate highly accurate personalized digital human heart models.
The models aim to provide a foundation for in silico medicine in cardiovascular care, and what’s more, serve as a common technology for training, medical device design and clinical diagnosis.
It’s a fascinating project that follows a fascinating trend towards giving medical professionals easier, more realistic environments on which to practice their craft that don’t involve living entities. Check out the video below to see more about the project, or alternatively visit their website.