Dr. Faiz Bhora of St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals, and his research team, have helped to take 3D printing to a whole new level. Using a special printer that uses biologic materials, primed with stem cells that will reproduce and grow over time, he wants to print a trachea that can be used in humans. The trachea is the tube that starts just below the voice box, and connects with the bronchia.
Currently it is very difficult to replace the trachea, and only a few successful transplants have taken place. When it is tried, patients often die within a short period of time due to complications. While it might not seem like it would be difficult, this is a very important part of the body that needs to work perfectly in order to allow food and air into the body, and keep infections from setting in. The trachea transplant is often rejected by the body when it is done.
Trachea transplants are needed in cases where people experience inhalation burns, have stenosis or experience lung disease. Another use for this could be for those who have to go through a tracheotomy due to throat cancer or an emergency situation.
Since the main complication from trachea transplants is rejection, the doctors want to use biologic material from the person’s own cells to create the new trachea. This would reduce, or eliminate the risk of rejection. Using a biological gel solution Dr. Bhora has already created a 3D airway that could be implanted, but it would quickly become unusable. This is why he said, “The next step is then to incorporate or embed stem cells within that that will differentiate into cartilage, which is the bulk of what the trachea is made up of.”
Adults have plenty of stem cells that can be used, once the process is perfected. That might not be very far off.
The research team has already had early success repairing the windpipe of a ping using a biologic membrane seeded with stem cells. After three months, the pig is doing well, and the trachea is growing along with the pig. This is very promising for the future of this technology.
Scientists are testing other uses for 3D printing for other parts of the body including ears, bladders, blood vessels and even kidneys. The future of 3D printing is looking very bright for the medical industry, and there for, for all of us as well.