3D printing is a technology that has advanced rapidly in recent years, penetrating various areas such as construction, the automotive industry and ecological conservation. Also in the field of medicine and health, 3D printing has a relevant impact and promises significant innovations. Recently, a study explored the use of 3D printing in the manufacture of a new type of diagnostic test, as the list of potential uses continues to grow.
Currently, a predominant form of rapid tests are so-called lateral flow tests, such as pregnancy tests or self-tests for Covid-19 that are marketed in some countries. The advantage of these tests in medicine is that they are not expensive, nor do they require specialized equipment for their use. These tests are useful for giving simple results, with a positive or negative answer, but not in the case of tests with multi-step protocols.
According to a study published in the journal Advanced Materials on May 10, this disadvantage could be overcome using 3D printing. In this study, the researchers describe a 3D-printed microfluidic device, with a network of channels and tiny locks. These are responsible for allowing or blocking where and when necessary without the need for moving parts, which allows to follow complex diagnostic test protocols.
A video from KU Leuven University, where this concept was developed, explains that complex tests, such as the ELISA (Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay) test, can be carried out using a printed test kit the size of a thick credit card. This test to diagnose allergies usually requires several steps in the laboratory, with different rinses and a change in acidity. However, this 3D printed test concept allows it to be performed in an accessible and scalable way.
Another potential use of 3D printing in medicine is the manufacture of shields to decrease the side effects of radiation therapy in the treatment of cancer. Although effective in shrinking tumors, radiation treatment can also damage healthy tissue, including tissue in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract.
According to a study published in the journal Advanced Science, the use of custom 3D printed devices can help prevent radiation-induced toxicity. The construction of these 3D printed shields requires materials with a high atomic number, to avoid the passage of gamma and X rays. Also other materials responsible for reducing the dispersion of radiation.
The work to date has been done in preclinical models and uses simulations to predict effects in humans. Based on simulations, this 3D printing shield method can reduce radiation to areas of the mouth by 30% for patients with head and neck cancers. It could also reduce the impact on the gastrointestinal tract in prostate cancer patients by 15%, without the need to reduce radiation to the tumor in either case.
Similarly, 3D printing promises to revolutionize the manufacture of personalized medicines, a rapidly developing field of research. So far, the most widely used 3D printing methods in this area require the drug to be processed into filaments like spaghetti before 3D printing.
However, according to a study published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics, a new 3D printing method can quickly produce porous pharmaceutical tablets without the use of filaments. This allows to regulate the rate at which the medicine flows from the tablet to the body, by changing the size of the pores, the study states. With further research, the porosity of the tablets could be used to tailor the dosage and dosing frequency of the drug, depending on the needs of each patient.
Taking advantage of 3D printing promises innovative uses and superior results in the medical field. As more research is done, new implementations for 3D printing appear on the healthcare horizon. Meanwhile, scientists are working to refine and secure any potential uses of 3D printing detected so far.
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