Using Software To Delve Into 3D Printing in the Life Sciences

Designed to Cure

3D printing is becoming an increasingly important tool in the life science industry. Image Credit: Flickr user Riley Porter

3D printing is being described as a “technological revolution” with the potential to fundamentally alter development processes and timelines for a wide range of industries.1 In the life science industry, researchers are using 3D printing to explore previously unattainable biological and medical concepts. Whether a lab is using 3D printing for research purposes or to create final products, modern software can work in conjunction with 3D printing to support the work of life science organizations.

Using 3D Printing for Life Science Research

Many life science researchers are taking advantage of the rapidly expanding capabilities of 3D printing to help them understand key biological concepts. For example, researchers at the University of Minnesota are using 3D printers to create scale models of protein structures and enzyme cofactors in order to better understand how they work in the body. The group created a three-dimensional model of the wax ester synthase enzyme, which has applications in biodiesel production. Since there is no published crystal structure for this enzyme, the researchers were able to use their theoretical model to predict where residues may be located in the actual protein. This information provided a basis for future site-specific mutagenesis studies.2

The research efforts at the University of Minnesota demonstrate how 3D printing is enabling scientists to gain insight into proteins for which existing protein analysis tools are insufficient. Understanding the interactions between proteins, enzyme cofactors, ligands, and other biological molecules is essential for developing effective drugs. In the pharmaceutical industry today, a large proportion of drugs fail in the late stages of testing, but 3D printing of biological molecules may be able to help with the identification of the most promising drug candidates. At the same time, modern software can work in conjunction with 3D printing technology to support first-time-right drug design in the life science industry.

3D Printing in Medical Product Creation

The use of 3D printing in the life science industry is not merely restricted to research. Scientists are now using 3D printing to develop products and devices that can be sold on the market. In fact, a July 2017 market report indicated that the global medical device 3D printing market reached $826 million in 2015, and the report predicted that the market will reach $2368 million by 2020, which represents a growth rate of 23.45%.3 Here are some of the products that are being created using 3D printing today:

 

  • Medical Devices. Both implantable and non-implantable medical devices can be manufactured using 3D printing. In addition, 3D printing can be used either to mass produce devices or to customize a device to meet the needs of a particular patient. Some of the medical devices that can be manufactured using a 3D printer include hearing aids, prosthetic limbs, sleep apnea devices, dental implants, and prescription eyeglasses.
  • Surgical Tools. Another way that 3D printing is benefitting the medical field is by making it possible to create more precise surgical tools. In 2015, a biomechanical engineer at the Austrian Center for Medical Innovation and Technology created a medical device designed for keyhole operations that remove cancerous tissues. It created less post-operative scar tissue in patients, and it also took less time and materials to manufacture.4 More recently, researchers at a British design development center found a way to print a metal, disposable tool for keyhole heart surgery that could be customized for the patient. 5
  • Solid Dosage Drugs. In August 2016, the FDA announced its openness to working with drug makers who use 3D printers to mass produce drugs in solid dosage forms. 3D printing could be a more reliable method for the consistent production of safe and effective medications, and it could also help lower the risk of future drug shortages.6
  • Biological Tissue Structures. At the bleeding edge of the field, scientists are using 3D printing to create biological tissue structures. For instance, researchers at Northwestern University recently published an article in the journal Nature demonstrating the possibility of using 3D printing to create three-dimensional structures of ovaries that could be used to make “bioprosthetic” ovaries. In mice, the researchers created three-dimensional scaffolds of ovaries, which, when combined with real tissue from mouse ovaries and transplanted into a live mouse, could support the development of healthy mouse pups. Although more research is needed, the researchers believe that their findings could provide a foundation for future fertility treatments in humans.7

 

As scientists at life science organizations explore these applications of 3D printing, it will be important to target research investments to the technologies that are most likely to succeed in clinical trials and reach the market. Not only can modern software help with the identification of the most promising products, but it can also speed the process so that new medical innovations reach patients as quickly as possible.

The BIOVIA Designed to Cure industry solution experience can support life science organizations in the development of medical products, including those that are created using 3D printing. Contact us today to learn more about how this software can help your lab overcome all of your R&D challenges!

  1.  “From rapid prototyping to home fabrication: How 3D printing is changing business model innovation,” January 2016, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0040162515002425
  2. 3D printing and molecular models,” 2017, http://barneybioproductslab.cfans.umn.edu/research/3d-printing-and-molecular-models
  3. “Global medical device 3D printing market projections,” July 6, 2017, http://www.military-technologies.net/2017/07/06/global-medical-device-3d-printing-market-projections-swot-analysis-risk-analysis-trends-and-forecast-by-2021-market-research-report-2017/
  4. “DragonFlex — A new 3D printed medical device for complex procedures,” January 19, 2015, https://3dprint.com/37974/dragonflex-medical-device/
  5.  “Medical 3D printing set to improve delicate surgical procedures,” June 29, 2017, https://3dprint.com/179414/3d-printed-heart-stabilizer/
  6.  “Update on 3D-printed drugs and what’s ahead for solid dosage forms,” July 2, 2017, http://www.pharmtech.com/update-3d-printed-drugs-and-what-s-ahead-solid-dosage-forms
  7. “Scientists one step closer to 3D printed ovaries to treat infertility,” May 20, 2017, http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/05/20/528646323/scientists-one-step-closer-to-3-d-printed-ovaries-to-treat-infertility