Additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3d printing, is a process of building objects from scratch, one layer at a time. It seems like a pretty young field: actually, researchers have been using this technique for several years, and it has already revolutionized the way we look at manufacturing. The possibilities offered by 3D printing are endless; some examples are being used to build houses, schools, and even firearms. Now this technology is starting to poke its nose (it should be said!) in the medical field as well.
Yes, because a team of surgeons at the university hospital in Toulouse, France, has successfully grafted a 3D printed nose grown on a patient's arm.
Technology has evolved to be able to create not only large structures, but also smaller structures that are small enough to enter the bloodstream and treat disease. It might seem like a futuristic speech, something still under development, but a Belgian company, the Cerhum, has also obtained European approval for use by patients. And it is precisely this company's technology that has made the work of French surgeons possible.
An almost desperate case
Building bones inside our body is done using chemicals such ashydroxyapatite (HAP) and the tricalcium phosphate (TCP). Usually, these substances are produced by our bone cells and shaped according to the location of the bone. However, they can also be produced in the laboratory, and also economically: this was the key.
According to the details provided in the Press release that I received, almost 10 years ago the patient operated on today had lost a large part of the nose and the anterior (frontal) region of the palate. In 2013 he was diagnosed with cancer of the nasal cavity: from there operations, radiotherapy and chemotherapy saved his life, but left him without a nose for several years.
Even an attempted reconstruction didn't work, and the patient failed to adjust to a prosthesis.
How I print your nose in 3D using the human body
Researchers at Toulouse University Hospital collaborated with Cerhum, who provided them with a highly customized nasal reconstruction option. A reconstruction that had never been done before, as there were very few blood vessels available for the reconstructed tissue to connect.
The intervention was completed in two phases. First, the custom 3D printed biomaterial that replaced the cartilage in the nose was constructed using images of the patient before treatment. In phase two, the construct was implanted on the patient's forearm. This allowed the skin grafts (taken from the temple area) to grow with the necessary blood vessels.
Two months later, surgeons at the University of Toulouse transplanted the 3D printed nose onto the patient's face. An innovative microsurgery procedure was performed to connect blood vessels grown from the skin of the arm to those present on the patient's face.
After the surgery, the patient was in the hospital for just 10 days, followed by antibiotics for another three weeks. Today his life has completely changed.