Difference Between 3D Medical Printing and Bioprinting
The first three-dimensional (3D) printer was invented by Charles Hull in 1984. In the next 30 years, the technology advanced rapidly and evolved into a $3.07 billion industry by the end of 2013. The 2014 Wohler’s report expects this number to grow to $12.8 billion by 2018 and exceed $21 billion by 2020. Unlike the past, the use of 3D printing technology is not limited to prototyping and development of traditional consumer products such as cars and electronics. The technology has also revolutionized the field of medicine as scientists and healthcare professionals are using 3D printing to print everything from prosthetics and surgical instruments to medications and biological tissues. The goal is to develop highly specific therapeutics to manage complex illnesses and injuries.
What is 3D Medical Printing?
A variety of 3D printers are available in the market today. While some versions are highly versatile, others have been specifically designed to create a particular type of product. Traditional 3D medical printers use inorganic compounds such as polymer resins, metal, plastic, ceramic and rubber among other things. The printer will deposit the desired materials on a substrate in a specific pattern that is based on the texture and the dimensions of the target object. Users often rely on scanned images of the target to obtain accurate measurements. Research labs, surgeons and corporations have used this technology to create surgical instruments, implants and models of various tissues and organs.
How is Bioprinting Different?
Traditional 3D medical printing and bioprinting are obviously inter-related and somewhat similar to each other. In fact, many people use the terms interchangeably. While both printers use the same basic additive printing technology, bioprinting and 3D printing differ significantly at the implementation level mainly because of the type of raw materials they use.
Bioprinters have been designed to deposit biological materials such as organic molecules, bone particles, cells and other extracellular matrices on a desired substrate. Unlike traditional 3D medical printing, this process involves complex designing and extensive scaffolding as it aims to generate multicellular structures that mimic the real tissue in structure and function. In most cases, the printer should be maintained within a controlled environment to retain the viability of the product. Organovo is a leading company in the field of bioprinting.
Currently, bioprinting technology is being used to print tissue fragments, dental and bone implants, medications, and prosthetics. The products can be customized as per the specific needs of the patient or the research study. Many pharmaceutical companies are using bioprinted tissue fragments to understand the actual impact of medications and other therapeutics at the cellular level. Surgeons are also hopeful that the highly compatible bioprinted implants and tissues will increase the success rates of transplantation surgeries. In fact, many products are already undergoing clinical trials.
As per TechNavio, a leading market research company, the bioprinting industry will grow at the rate of 14.52 percent between 2013 and 2018. Along with 3D medical printing, it is helping surgeons and other healthcare professionals understand the human body in great detail. The two technologies are complementing each other and are evolving together to change medicine forever.