There have been many innovative uses of 3dprinting that make the news almost every day. 3Dprinting cars and even houses are just a few examples of how fast the technology is emerging. It is widely recognised that the medical industry stands to make great strides from the use of 3dprinting through research and development and this was evidenced at the 3Dprintshow in London. During the 3Dprintshow there was a stand in the ‘3dprinted hospital’ section that caught my eye over all other exhibitors. There was no flashy corporate stand dominating the event hall, no pushy sales reps promoting their printers, just a desk with a 3dprinter and an information board explaining the project, along with Alan J Faulhner-jones. Alan is a PHD student from Heriot Watt University, who won the Inspirational individual award in the 3dprintshow annual awards ceremony. Alan won the award for creating a ‘bioprinter’ that is capable of 3dprinting human cells with the aim of using the printer to hopefully one day help cure some of the worlds most common diseases.
Alan explained that, ‘New drug development can take more than 10 years and only around 16% of drug candidates that begin pre-clinical testing are approved for human use. Some of this low success rate is due to the different responses of humans and animal models used for testing. At Heriot-Watt we are working towards creating micro versions of human organs from human cells, such as the liver. These so called “micro-tissues” should produce the same responses that the entire organ would, but on a much smaller scale.’ The shear scale of this is truly ground breaking, if we could 3dprint living organs to test out new drugs, this could throw the medical industry on its head and really advance the fight against some of the most deadly diseases we so often encounter.
Alan’s background is Robotics & Cybertronics for which he gained a Masters degree at Heriot Watt University and he has since used this expertise to create the Bioprinter that forms the core element of his PHD studies. Alan explained that, ‘It’s a continuous development cycle, I started my PhD in 2010 and I’m currently working on the 4th generation machine now. The biggest challenges lie with the biology; sometimes cells don’t do what you expected they would do.’ Also, in the first stages of application of the printer Alan is aiming for ‘liver micro-tissues for drug testing’ and in theory the technology could then be applied to generating tissues to repair the body using patients own cells to avoid rejection.
This really is ground breaking use of 3dprinting technology and in terms of impact, it could have the biggest of them all. Alan really has a special project and I wish him all the best with this as I really believe that this will help the masses. Many people ask me how would 3dprinting benefit them in their lives, well this project right here could benefit us all in the future. Definitely one to watch.
For more information check out Alan’s 3dprintshow page