Precision Medicine in 3D
By: Colorado BioScience Association Date: 08/15/2017
Printing the Future of Medicine
Precision medicine often happens invisibly, in the nuclei of cells, in the dances of proteins, in the bowels of sequencers, in the processing cores of computer servers. There’s no better place to see it and even touch it than at 3D Systems’ gleaming new Healthcare Technology Center in Littleton.
As part of our weekly Breakthrough Profiles series on bioscience innovation in Colorado, we’re proud to highlight one of the many companies in our state focused on personalized solutions for patient care.
Just a few steps away from the world’s first commercial 3D printer (circa 1987, it was invented by 3D Systems co-founder and Colorado native Chuck Hull), an employee sits before big double monitors. She sifts through digital CT-scan slices of a patient’s skull, erasing artifacts with each click. Behind her, a colleague digitally manipulates a complex latticework destined to support the severely broken leg depicted ghostlike inside it. Another works on a 3D rendering of a patient’s jaw. Using a thick pen attached to a small bot – a GeomagicTouchX Haptic device, which another 3D Systems division makes – he designs a guide that will slide perfectly over that particular jaw and no other, enabling a maxillofacial surgeon to cut with absolute confidence and exactitude.
Around the corner behind wall-to-ceiling plate glass, an industrial 3D printer flashes laser light onto the surface of a milky polymer. In layers a tenth of a millimeter thick, it realizes in three dimensions designs born on those and many other screens. It’s one of 50 such machines here, different ones being capable of sculpting (technically “additive manufacturing”) in metal, epoxy, gypsum or nylon, depending on the need.
3D Printed Models of Conjoined Twins’ Brains Provide Surgeons Advance Review of Anatomy
The 3D printers produce everything from patient-specific titanium dental and orthopedic implants to multicolor models for pre-surgical planning. Among many recent successes was a modelsurgeons used to prep for the separation of conjoined twins. In the shared plastic cranium, blood vessels connect in bright-red embrace where either tiny skull would normally seek closure. Combine that with digital planning tools and live review sessions led by 3D Systems’ “anatomical modeling team” and you have what Katie Weimer, vice president of medical devices for 3D Systems Healthcare, calls “a game changer.”
“By the time surgeons get to the OR, they’ve effectively done the case once or twice already,” she said.
3D Systems may be doing the most visually striking precision medicine work here or anywhere else, but it’s far from alone in advancing what’s widely considered to be the future of medicine. The 21st Century Cures act, championed by Colorado’s own Rep. Diana DeGette, which President Obama signed in December 2016, dedicates $1.4 billion over 10 years to the Precision Medicine Initiative and another $3.4 billion to two programs – the Cancer Moonshot and the BRAIN initiative – in which precision medicine figures in.
Companies and organizations up and down the Front Range are hard at work developing diagnostics, therapies, and healthcare delivery systems to incorporate unique patient traits into tailored care plans.
Read more about these companies and organizations working to advance the future of medicine in our full story on precision medicine in Colorado.