Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Printing, Growing, and Replacing Body Parts

A Dutch Woman received a 3D printed skull a few months ago and is now back to life as normal. The woman had a condition that causes bones to thicken, particularly in the skull. This had caused her skull to thicken to almost three times its normal thickness, which was putting pressure on her brain.
Led by brain surgeon Bon Verweij, MD,  the surgical team labored 23 hours in the operating room to replace the woman's skull with one made of acrylic. Her new skull was 3-D printed by an Australian company, Anatomics (St. Kilda, Victoria) that specializes in the custom 3-D printing of cranial and maxillofacial implants based on the patient's own CT and MRI image data. Verweij performed the operation with assistance from orthodontic surgeon Marvick Muradin, MD.
“The condition initially manifests itself in severe headaches,” Verweij explained in a hospital press release. “The thickening of the skull puts the brain under increasing pressure. Ultimately, she slowly lost her vision and started to suffer from motor coordination impairment. It was only a matter of time before other essential brain functions would have been impaired and she would have died. So intensive surgery was inevitable, but until now there was no effective treatment for such patients.”
Remarkable, but not exclusive.  In the UK, a British man with a rare bone cancer had part of his pelvis removed and replaced with a 3D printed synthetic.
The surgical team used a 3-D scanner to measure the exact amount of bone that needed to be  removed. In this case so much bone needed removing that nothing would have been left to which an implant could have been attached. The man’s leg would have been left unattached to his spine and “hanging,” and it would have been shorter than the other, the surgeon told the newspaper.
His surgery was three years ago.  UK newspapers report the man is able to walk with the aid of a stick.  Sure beats a walker - or being confined to a wheel chair or bed.  

Remarkable, but only the beginning.  There was a story about soft tissue being engineered and four teenage girls with a rare and otherwise unrepairable disease receiving lab-grown vaginas made of their own body tissue, between 2005 and 2008.  This success opens the door to other, more complex organs being grown and printed.  The heart has been targeted, although that may be skipping over lower levels of complexity. 

I've been a major advocate of, and believer in tissue engineering since first hearing of this years ago.  We are currently bringing thousands of young men and women home from battle with missing limbs.  Wouldn't it be fantastic to build them a replacement instead of a prosthetic?  What could be a better way to improve their lives? Think of people who have virtually every other part of their body removed during cancer treatment: liver, kidney, pancreas, intestines, skin, breast, and bones.  Think of the people who tear up a knee or elbow, or develop arthritis, or who lose pieces of ears, or nose to skin cancer.  Wouldn't it be a massive improvement to grow new cartilage and restore full functionality?  How can medicine talk about "quality of life" and not go down this research pathway?


  1. To grow organs, stem cell research is needed. This is why I opposed the Bush administration's restrictions against stem cell research

  2. I've got to say I was more against the W's stem cell policies until I read some researcher's article. I'll have to see if I can find out where it was (it was years ago - W was still in office)

    His points were: (1) it only affected federally-funded, not industry-funded research so they could do whatever they thought was needed; (2) it only limited creation of new stem cell lines, and existing lines could still be used; (3) nobody had done anything really useful with embryonic stem cells, and the most productive research was coming out of stem cells found in adult's muscle and fat, not embryos. At that time (again, probably '06/'07??), this guy said all attempts to use embryonic cells in therapy had resulted in cancers.

    I apologize for the memory lapse. I'll have to poke around and see if I can figure out where I read it.

  3. Part 1 (4096 char limit)

    I have done a bit of research on the topic, so I'll share what I've seen. My knowledge is at the interested layperson level.

    There appear to be two main techniques of interest: a) bioprinting and b) removing the living cells from a donor structure (for instance a pig's kidney) leaving only a scaffold upon which the recipient's cells are grown.

    Here is the beginning of a linkfest on BioPrinting. Essentially every other link here is derived from this HackADay article.

    > There were a few keynotes at this year’s Midwest RepRap festival, and somewhat surprisingly most of the talks weren’t given by the people responsible for designing your favorite printer. One of the most interesting talks was given by [Jordan Miller], [Andy Ta], and [Steve Kelly] about the use of RepRap and other 3D printing technologies in biotechnology and tissue engineering. Yep, in 50 years when you need a vital organ printed, this is where it’ll come from.

    Remember the above names, they'll be back.

    MRRF 2014 - Bioprinting
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UTAre6tvgE 25 minutes
    Youtube AMRI 2013 final presentations - playlist; numerous, longish.
    Jordan's introductory presentation, good AMRI overview 8:36

    Jordan Miller (AMRI) also did an earlier HackADay article
    Printing organs with a 3D printer
    Rep Rap 3D Printing Blood Vessel Networks

  4. Part 2

    Check Andy Ta's blog. Andy particpated in AMRI. I especially was interested in the vasculature contest sponsored by Thingverse that he seems to have participated in.
    Longer version of Andy's portion of above MRRF 2014 video. I'm still reading his blog (backwards in time) and this is from September 2013.
    Anderson Ta - AMRI 2013 Final Presentations

    Another HackADay article about Bioprinting
    Commenter in this article mentions a TED talk about printing kidneys; experimental. TED2011 · 17:24 · Filmed Mar 2011

    DIY 3D bioprinter info and references to an earlier Anthony Atalia TED talk.
    TEDMED 2009 · 17:52 · Filmed Oct 2009
    Longer talk with more details than 2011 talk; mentions 1 cm tissue regeneration. 04:40-05:05

    Most of this content is related to BioPrinting, although I do believe there is some mention of scaffolds in the TED Talk video(s). It was some time back, so I plead memory errors.

    Fascinating stuff, and some notable progress including positive outcomes for live humans.

  5. Part 3


    RepRap - 3D printer

    MRRF - event - Midwest RepRap Festival - March 14-16th, 2014

    maker - a person that participates in the "maker" community.

    Arduino - small, reduced capability, cheap microcontroller computer frequently used by makers; used in the RepRap.

    GitHub - website for storing Open Source programs and other materials such as documentation; publicly available, free downloads.

    AMRI - Advanced Manufacturing Research Institute, Rice University

    Re: glossary building. You might wish to make a request to your blog software provider and request the feature. You can't be the only one that wants the feature, and it would make a very fine competitive advantage for the vendor.

    SiGB: I think your memory is pretty good about the W issues. If memory serves, much of the fetal tissue issue has been made moot due to success with using the person's own tissue. I believe this is due to using "adult stem cells".

    73, Jim

  6. Thanks, Jim!! That's a real linkfest there. I should probably turn those into live links.

  7. Problem 1: Dodging The Curse. We are sinners through and through and have lost the right to the Tree of Life. We won't get around it, and trying will merely increase our guilt. For example by murdering unborn infants for their stemcells, or merely stealing the cells after we murder them for convenience.

    Problem 2: Money. Some folks will pay anything for a few more years of sinning. They'll sin to sin more.

    There are more, but enough already.