3D printing is a major topic at the COMPAMED 2016 trade fair. Even though many universities and companies are very interested in this technology, there is still somewhat of a lack of willingness to purchase the necessary equipment. We talked to Dr. Ruth Houbertz of the Multiphoton Optics GmbH, about this topic. She has delivered a presentation on "High Precision 3D Printing for Biomedical Application" at the COMPAMED HIGH-TECH FORUM by IVAM.
Dr. Houbertz, 3D printing has become an integral part of medical technology. You will introduce 3D lithography at the COMPAMED 2016 trade fair. What types of biomedical applications is this process suited for?
Ruth Houbertz: This process lends itself to a variety of applications, for example, the creation of scaffolds for tissue engineering applications of non-biodegradable and biodegradable materials. However, these need to be structurable by using light. In addition, the process is suited to produce microfluidic cells, biochips or micro-optical systems for novel endoscopes. It is applicable in so many different areas. To list them all would go beyond the scope of this interview.
Right now, this process is in high demand in the field of tissue engineering. How can a 3D printer help to grow cells?
Houbertz: A high-precision 3D printer can provide a structure where cells can subsequently settle into. The lab-grown tissue can then be implanted into patients. This is a great advantage when it comes to major injuries caused by accidents, surgeries or cancer treatments on a patient’s face where large parts of the body had to be removed. The remaining shape of the face can be scanned with a scanner for example. The computer then calculates a custom 3D model, while the 3D printer is able to build this structure. Combined with the right materials, growth factors and cell conditioning, you are able to reproduce “body parts” that are custom-made for patients and can be implanted. Our high-precision 3D printing process illustrates options for delivering these types of structures but also for linking medical technology, biology and photonics in other fields, for instance in the detection or triggering of processes in biological systems using light. Needless to say, some of this is still a long way off in the future but if you don’t act and move on things now, you won’t get ahead.
You have already touched on this: what applications do you anticipate seeing in the future?
Houbertz: More applications in the field of drug delivery systems for example. These systems make it possible to deliver medication right to where they can be most beneficial in the body. The detection of diseases with new types of biochips is also a conceivable option.
Who might be interested in the acquisition of this type of 3D printer?
Houbertz: All research facilities and universities that are interested in working at the forefront of medical research. Highly innovative companies that intend to also make the impossible possible. Needless to say, the purchase of a 3D printer designed to generate high-precision constructs cannot be immediately turned into cash flow. Having said that, if you consider the long process and time it takes for medical devices to be approved, you best look into the next generation of technologies now –, especially in Germany. After all, if you consider the comparatively low cost of acquisition and operation and compare it to the profit potential for companies and society, it is worth the effort. Other countries are already doing it and are many steps ahead of us.