If you have a heart that works as it should then the personal stories of humans who need medical intervention when theirs—or any other part of their bodies—do not might just break it. Medical science and engineering technologies continue to play a vital role in improving the outcomes and well-being of many individuals. It’s not perfect, but continuous improvement by combining medical excellence and innovative technologies and pushing them out further into the healthcare sector is benefitting more and more people at the point of need.
A 3D printing company that keeps pushing the boundaries in this area is Stratasys. Indeed, the company is consistently focusing in on specific applications to develop improvements and better solutions. The medical sector, of course, has been identified as a good fit for 3D printing technologies in various areas and thus is a target market, but it is the progressive nature of Stratasys’s developments that garner attention.
One of the latest developments from the company is BioMimics, provided initially as a service across North America, to deliver ‘the next generation of medical models’ to meet the demands of the industry’s leading hospitals, researchers and medical device manufacturers. Specifically, BioMimics can be employed to realistically enhance the training and education of surgeons and medical professionals without the risks or the accessibility and repeatability issues associated with cadavers and animals while offering the repeatable, complex pathology required by training facilities. Moreover, BioMimics can also realistically support the recreation of clinical scenarios to assist in medical device development and enable medical device OEMs to access patient anatomy for testing and validation of products.
The service, which will likely increase in reach through 2018, is initially available through Stratasys Direct Manufacturing to provide realistic and functionally accurate 3D printed replicas of complex anatomical structures. This is because BioMimics effectively mirrors the intricacies of both soft tissue and hard bones via multi-material 3D printing, which is achieved by combining Stratasys’s PolyJet 3D printing technology with new materials and software. Thus, specific 3D printed models can be created that match what professionals encounter during live medical scenarios while real-time feedback on device performance in realistic environments can be gained prior to actual deployment.
According to Scott Rader, general manager (GM) of healthcare solutions at Stratasys: 'Testing innovative medical devices, teaching principles of surgery, providing continuing medical education and demonstrating new products to clinicians all require ‘bench-top’ models that simulate human bodies and diseases. Much like simulation and co-piloting builds expertise for pilots, medical practitioners hone skills throughout their careers to provide exceptional care. The challenges of today’s solutions include animal models that only approximate human anatomy and cadavers that don’t retain the live-tissue feel and often lack targeted pathology.'
Rader continued: 'BioMimics is a revolution in medical modeling, capitalizing on advanced 3D printing techniques for clinically accurate representations of complex human anatomies, from microscopic patterns of tissue to replicating soft to hard texture of body structures. Armed with unmatched realism of BioMimics, researchers, educators and manufacturers can finally utilize the tools to prove out new ideas long before clinical trials and demonstrate innovations to the skilled physicians who rely on them.'
BioMimics is initially designed to model the complexities of heart and bone structures, with vascular anatomies expected in early 2018. Engineered alongside the industry’s top researchers and manufacturers, the service empowers customers to either capitalize on a variety of existing BioMimics models or design enhanced anatomical structures that match distinct clinical requirements.
Dr. Adnan Siddiqui, chief medical officer at Jacobs Institute and vice-chairman and professor of neurosurgery at University of Buffalo Neurosurgery, explained the value of this development from the user angle: 'The Jacobs Institute has been using Stratasys 3D printing solutions to replicate vascular anatomy for many years. The BioMimics capabilities Stratasys has now developed enable a level of biomechanical realism and clinical sophistication not previously available in any vascular model. BioMimics will enhance medical innovation in vascular disease by enabling improved pre-clinical validation of new devices and clinically realistic training simulators.'
Shi-Joon Yoo, MD, PhD, cardiac radiologist at the Hospital for Sick Children, also known as SickKids, and professor of medical imaging and pediatrics at University of Toronto, expanded further: 'As one of the top research and pediatrics hospitals in Canada, SickKids is committed to unprecedented innovation to positively impact the well-being of children around the world. We have developed new training programs through 3D printing that allow surgeons to practice procedures on replicas of real patients’ pathology. BioMimics enhances the realism and clinical validity of the models even further, allowing the surgeons to develop the techniques and skills that will translate into live patient cases.'
And this is what Stratasys is very good at—finding partners and working with them to prove out their solutions; in general and notably here in the medical field. Another partner on the record for this application of improved medical devices and preclinical testing is the Nicklaus Children's Hospital, which was able to validate device performance on patient-derived 3D printed anatomical models using real patient imaging to produce 3D printed models that mimic a variety of tissue properties in a single print. According to Dr. Redmond Burke from the Nicklaus Children's Hospital: 'My team could visualize the operation before we started. We knew the safest approach and confidently made a smaller incision.'
That’s the reality right there—a smaller scar. I’m pretty sure that that child will not care much that 3D printing contributed to them having a smaller scar, but the fact that they don’t have to recover from a bigger incision or live with a bigger scar is the end result that matters here and it’s a real and meaningful result of science and engineering progress that should be applauded.