3D bioprinting in burn and reconstructive surgery

Jamie Costello (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK) looks at what exactly 3D bioprinting is, what it has achieved and where it is heading in the future.

Jun 26, 2019
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Modern technology is amazing and has been responsible for so many fascinating and lifesaving developments, one of which is 3D bioprinting. Although in most forms it is still in its infancy, the development of this technology is a priority for a lot of companies. Let’s have a look at what exactly 3D bioprinting is, what it has achieved and where it is heading in the future.

What is 3D bioprinting?

3D bioprinting in medicine refers to utilizing bioprinters that use computer-guided pipettes to layer cells on top of one another, ultimately creating artificial tissue that can then be used for reconstructive surgeries, such as treating burns victims with severe deep-skin wounds, organ transplants, breast augmentations or it can be used for medical research and testing.

Focusing on the examples of surgery on burns victims and breast augmentations, this article will look at the capabilities of 3D bioprinting, the impact it has had and where it is likely to go in the future. 

What are the capabilities of medical 3D bioprinting?

 For burns victims, 3D printing will be a huge development on current, traditional care procedures. Skin grafting has been around for years, requiring a portion of healthy skin to be removed and then placed on the wounded skin. In the eventuality that the victim doesn’t have the healthy skin needed, donors are required, which are not always available. This wouldn’t be an issue with 3D bioprinting, as the skin required could be printed. Skin grafts are lengthy and painful, so this new technology really could transform people's lives. 3D printing can also be used for creating organs, meaning that one day those waiting for a donor, who really don’t have time to waste, could have a functional organ created for them. 

Researchers are currently developing new breast implants that are created through 3D printing, in which fat cells are put into a bioabsorbable shell, which is absorbed by the body,  leaving just the fat cells. This will make such a huge difference to the health of patients as there are many issues with silicone implants that could be avoided through 3D printing. Whether you’re looking for a breast reduction in Manchester (UK) or an enlargement in Los Angeles (CA, USA), this new technology is bound to take over across the globe as it is so diverse and recent developments are very exciting in terms of what the future may hold. Although the treatment is still in its infancy, there are developments like this in the works that have the potential to transform modern medicine. 

What impact has 3D bioprinting had?

Aside from the obvious benefits as discussed above, 3D printing research and technology has been a keen focus for pharmaceutical companies and is likely to continue to be. Firstly, 3D printing and bioprinting can speed up the drug discovery and testing processes, as the drugs can be tested on functional human tissues, which could help to identify any issues before commencing preclinical and clinical studies. Rather than waiting years for organ donors, patients may have to wait just a matter of days in certain cases. 3D bioprinting, more than anything else at the minute, has offered people hope. The applications of this treatment are ever expanding, leaving us in a very exciting time in terms of medical discoveries in this area. 

What does the future look like for 3D printing and bioprinting in medicine?

Bioprinting will be in surgeries of all kinds and in the future, will be able to offer patients many more options, improving patient control of their own health and treatment plans. From existing feedback, medical professionals are discussing how much thepatients approve of the technology, largely due to the amazing results. Although bioprinted organs may not be available in the near future, the fact that things like this are being developed is extremely exciting for the healthcare industry. 

Jamie Costello

Student

Jamie Costello is a medical student based in Manchester, UK. Costello is currently studying his final module 'Burns, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery' and as part of his module, he's been asked to collate a writing portfolio to showcase his skills which will contribute to his final grade. He takes his knowledge from education and work experience to write this particular piece.

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