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  • According to market research firm Gartner, 3D printing in the medical sector is climbing towards a peak of hypeability and nothing could be more hype-worthy than the regeneration of nerves after an injury. A team of researchers from the University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech, University of Maryland, Princeton University, and Johns Hopkins University have created a first-of-its-kind 3D printed guide that helps restore sensory and motor functions to damaged nerves, a affliction suffered by more than 200,000 people worldwide due to disease and injury.


    The Mayo Clinic suggests that, due to the complexity of nerve regeneration, nerve damage can be permanent; however, according to a study published in the journal of Advanced Functional Materials, there may be a 3D printed solution. The multidisciplinary team was able to 3D print custom silicone guides infused with biochemical cues that proved to effectively regrow nerve tissue in lab rats. To create the guide, the team first 3D scanned a rat's sciatic nerve, resulting in a 3D model with which to create a guide specifically for the rat. 3D printed on a custom-built machine, the silicone guide was saturated with chemical cues (colored red and green in the video above) to trigger motor and sensory nerve growth. After the guide was surgically implanted into the cut ends of the rat?s nerve, the rat was able to regain its normal walking ability just 10 to 12 weeks later.

    While nerve regeneration has been demonstrated with straight-line nerves, this was the first time that more complicated shape was regrown. With an accurate 3D scan and the subsequent 3D printed guide, the sciatic nerve's Y-shape was regrown over the course of just a few months. Michael McAlpine, lead researcher and mechanical engineering professor at the University of Minnesota, said of the study, "This represents an important proof of concept of the 3D printing of custom nerve guides for the regeneration of complex nerve injuries. Someday we hope that we could have a 3D scanner and printer right at the hospital to create custom nerve guides right on site to restore nerve function."

    To bring this technology to humans, McAlpine suggests an entire library of scanned nerves from individuals, living and deceased, could be created to create guides for patients. The professor says, "The exciting next step would be to implant these guides in humans rather than rats. When there will be a Thingiverse, Youmagine, or MyMiniFactory for 3D printable nerves remains to be seen, but, when it arrives, you may never have to hear your uncle complain about his sciatica ever again.

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    • Full-color 3D anatomical model reveals the network of vessels responsible for breathing problems
    • Underscores how doctors are utilizing 3D technology to advance personalized medicine and achieve better outcomes

    Release Date: Thursday, April 16, 2015 - 09:03


    ROCK HILL, South Carolina, April 16, 2015 - 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) announced today that a 20-month-old toddler is breathing and swallowing easier thanks to a team of cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO, who used a full-color 3D printed replica of his heart to prepare for a delicate, 2.5 hour procedure at St. Louis Children's Hospital.

    3DS has been at the forefront of surgical planning and personalized medical solutions for almost two decades. With an end-to-end digital thread that integrates surgical simulation, training, planning, and printing of anatomical models, surgical instruments and medical devices, 3DS has helped doctors in tens of thousands of complex medical cases to achieve better patient outcomes with faster surgeries.

    Life-size, realistic models make it simpler for patients and families to grasp the details of complex medical procedures, and they provide healthcare practitioners with invaluable preparation for their work in the operating room. In this particular case, the surgical team needed to relocate heart vessels that were squeezing and compressing the toddler's windpipe and esophagus, causing obstruction of the airway that resulted in difficulty breathing and swallowing. The printed model helped the team familiarize themselves with the unique vessel structure they would face in surgery, and they were also able to use it when discussing the condition with the patient's parents.

    Dr. Shafkat Anwar, a member of the Pediatric Cardiology team at Washington University who worked with 3DS to develop the model heart for this particular surgical procedure said, "With 3D printing, we were able to print a replica of the patient's heart anatomy, developed from medical imaging scans, and use that model to get a handle on what surgeons would be faced with in the OR and to communicate with the patient?s parents and other team members."

    Full-color 3D printed heart model created from medical imaging data that illustrates the vascular anatomy (blue & red) surrounding the airway anatomy (yellow).

    "We are excited to see more and more patients benefitting from the use of 3D printed medical models and virtual surgical planning, especially in challenging and complex cases like this heart surgery, where the precision afforded by 3D technology is integral to the procedure's success," said Kevin McAlea, Chief Operating Officer, Healthcare Products, 3DS. "From surgical training to implants to prosthetics, 3DS" personalized medical solutions are helping provide favorable outcomes and improving quality of life."

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