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Engineering a Healthier Future

3D printing in Biomedical Engineering

Richard Izzo, a UB graduate student, and Karen Meess, a Jacobs Institute biomedical engineer, discuss a printed 3D model of part of a brain. Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News

By Henry Davis | Buffalo News Medical Reporter | on April 25, 2016 - 7:16 PM, updated April 26, 2016 at 7:58 AM

Buffalo is taking a big step in its ambitions to play a leading role in one of the next big things in health care: 3D printing.

The Jacobs Institute and Stratasys Ltd., a major 3D printer-maker, on Tuesday announced a partnership to advance the use of the emerging technology in medicine, especially in neurosurgery, heart surgery and diseases that impair blood vessels.

The two-year arrangement builds on work by doctors here who last year made a 3D replica of the convoluted blood vessels in a patient’s brain to rehearse a delicate procedure before repairing a life-threatening aneurysm.

With the help of a $200,000 grant from the James H. Cummings Foundation, the Jacobs Institute bought a more sophisticated 3D printer that can produce objects in multiple materials and colors. It will use the machine to do surgical planning with patient-specific anatomical models, test new devices to treat stroke and other vascular conditions, and train surgeons and medical students.

The company will consider the Jacobs Institute a Stratasys 3D Printing Center of Excellence, and use the partnership to glean medical and engineering feedback about the printer and materials, while showcasing current and potential 3D printing applications, officials said.

The move fits in with other initiatives to create a robust life sciences sector near downtown Buffalo.

“We need to build strategic partnerships with device manufacturers. 3D printing is an area of growth, we’re in the forefront of it, and we want to be seen as a go-to place in that space,” said Bill Maggio, Jacobs Institute chief executive officer. “This also leverages our strengths in neurosurgery and heart surgery.”

The nonprofit Jacobs Institute is in the building that houses the Gates Vascular Institute and the University at Buffalo’s Center for Translational Research on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Working closely with UB and Kaleida Health, its mission is to bring new therapies and devices from the laboratory to the market as quickly as possible.

The printer is a refurbished Objet 500 Connex3, which can vary material properties and apply different colors in a single print job. That allows physicians and researchers to make more realistic models of parts of the body.

“The new materials and colors mean we can produce highly sophisticated 3D anatomical replicas to accelerate product testing, research and advanced training,” said Dr. Adnan H. Siddiqui, chief medical officer at Jacobs and vice chairman and professor of neurosurgery at UB. “It opens doors that previously did not exist.”

There is much hype about 3D printing and advances needed to improve the process, but it is emerging as a potentially significant technology in health care. Researchers and manufacturers envision using 3D printing to preplan and practice operations, train new doctors, build body parts, develop and test new medical devices and, perhaps, even make transplantable organs.

The Stratasys printer used last year to make a replica for the aneurysm case is in the UB Toshiba Stroke and Vascular Research Center. The process involved taking CT scans of the patient’s brain and using software to transform the digital files into a life-sized copy made of a photopolymer material that mimics the feel of human tissue.

Ciprian Ionita, a UB research assistant professor in biomedical engineering and neurosurgery, who over the years has worked with Siddiqui on early 3D-printed models of brain arteries, described the partnership as an opportunity to create a “paradigm shift” in the testing of devices to treat endovascular conditions, such as blockages that cause strokes.

“The accuracy, texture and clarity of these models make them superior to cadavers and animals for training and testing,” he said. “We have just about nailed replicating the surface properties of a human vessel.”

Stratasys, co-headquartered in Minneapolis and Rehovot, Israel, last year announced the formation of a medical solutions group within the company, reflecting the growing promise of medical applications. Scott Rader, general manager of the group. characterized Jacobs as pushing the limits of how the company’s 3D printing technology can be used, which will help the company refine its products.

“Jacobs is taking what is possible to what is practical,” he said, noting that Stratasys placed no stipulations on the 3D studies Jacobs pursues with federal or industry support.

Jacobs officials see a larger benefit from the partnership with Stratasys.

“We’re trying to bring medical device makers to Buffalo,” said Maggio. “This is something that will be impressive to other potential partners.”

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