3D printing pushes medical boundaries

QUT Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation biofabrication research leader Dietmar W Hutmacher. Photo: Queensland University of Technology

QUT Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation biofabrication research leader Dietmar W Hutmacher. Photo: Queensland University of Technology

Queensland students are set be at the forefront of using 3D printing to create human body parts, with a world-first course to be offered in Brisbane.

The international masters degree in biofabrication will be jointly offered by the Queensland University of Technology, the University of Wollongong, the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands and the University of Würzburg in Germany.

QUT Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation biofabrication research leader Dietmar W Hutmacher said the applications of 3D technology could eventually end the need for organ donations.

“That is the big, big, big vision, but to be realistic we are far away from regenerating a complete organ with this technology,” Professor Hutmacher said.

“Part of an organ? Yes, that’s possible in the next five to 10 years, but a complete heart is still far away.

“…The big question mark over why it will take so much longer is we also need to control and direct the biology.”

“That is something we really have to work on in the next decade to really link this to the 3D printing technology.”

Professor Hutmacher said a more immediate application of the technology was the use of 3D-printed biodegradable scaffolding to create replacement bones for patients.

Scafolding for bones is among the first uses for 3D printing within the human body. Photo: Queensland University of Technology

Scafolding for bones is among the first uses for 3D printing within the human body. Photo: Queensland University of Technology

And, possibly within three years, the reconstruction of breasts in former cancer patients.

Instead of a silicone implant, an MRI or a laser scan of the patient’s healthy breast would be used to design a breast scaffold.

“The surgeon would implant the scaffold, use liposuction to suck fat tissue from another part of the body and fill the scaffold all in one operation,” Professor Hutmacher said.

“Two or three years later, the scaffold would be completely degraded and the breast would be regenerated.”

Professor Hutmacher said students enrolled in the course would have the opportunity to be world leaders in a new field of medical engineering.

“It’s really important with an education program like this to really stimulate the young guns in Australia to move into this area,” he said.

“In all the discussions now about the manufacturing industry in Australia, we see a great chance to create engineers in this biofabrication space, which will have a very unique education in a cutting edge area that will be very hard to replicate in other countries.”

Australian students enrolled in the course would spend up to 12 months studying at one of the European universities, with European also spending time in Brisbane and Wollongong.

Professor Hutmacher said biofabrication research required an understanding of chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, robotics and computer science.

He said graduates in those fields were encouraged to apply for the masters degree.

Brisbane Times

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