Four years ago, medical 3D printing was something that many people still didn’t know much about. It was beginning to develop through applications such as 3D printed anatomical models and patient-specific implants, but compared to where it is today, it was something that the average person outside of the 3D printing industry may not have even known existed. Entrepreneur Felipe Marques knew about it, though, and saw a lot of potential for its future. So he launched BioArchitects, a Brazilian company that has already made a big impact on medicine in its short lifetime.

BioArchitects specializes in 3D printed biocompatible metal implants to replace hard tissue such as bone, particularly in the cranial region. In 2016, the company became the first ever to have its 3D printed titanium implants certified by the FDA. Using Arcam titanium 3D printing technology, BioArchitects crafts implants to perfectly fit each patient. Missing bone in the skull, whether due to injury or illness, exposes patients to the risk of brain injury, as well as causing aesthetic problems.

Surgery to fix these defects can be complicated, as it’s difficult to obtain the perfect geometry for an implant before opening up the patient. Often, adjustments have to be made during the surgery, resulting in a longer operation, more time under anaesthesia, and greater risk of infection or other complication. BioArchitects’ implants use patient scans to create 3D models, which are used to design and 3D print an implant that perfectly matches the defect. The implant can then be attached to the patient’s skull easily on the first try, in a much quicker and safer procedure. In addition, the 3D printed titanium implants are lightweight yet strong, protecting the patient without causing discomfort. The edges are designed to be porous for better osseointegration, and a perforated surface allows for the regulation of intracranial pressure.

While BioArchitects may be known for its 3D printed titanium implants, it also offers a lot more. Its SimMics simulator allows medical students to practice botulinum toxin, or Botox, injections. The simulator presents a real-looking human face, complete with wrinkles so that students can practice injections on skin that looks and feels real, without relying on cadavers.

BioArchitects also employs mixed reality for diagnostic purposes, creating a virtual version of each patient’s anatomy so that doctors and surgeons can study the organs to be operated on, as well as adjacent structures. The user can rotate bones and fractures to get a better look, position them correctly and select the right implant for each case. The company also creates 3D printed anatomical models for better diagnoses as well as surgical practice.

Diagnostics have come a long way in a short period of time thanks to technology like 3D printed models and virtual, augmented and mixed reality. Medical professionals can now examine bones and organs from every angle, rather than relying on two-dimensional representations that don’t allow a full view of the problem at hand. As more companies emerge with the skill to create these virtual and physical models, patients will be spending less time on the operating table and will benefit from more precise, more accurate and overall more effective surgeries with quicker recovery times.

Right now, BioArchitects stands apart from the crowd for its patient-specific titanium implants, but in the medical world, standing apart from the crowd comes secondary to reaching the greatest number of patients possible, and Marques believes that implants like his company’s will one day become commonplace.

“I am sure that as the technology develops and 3D printing becomes cheaper and quicker, this will become mass market,” he told CGTN.

We can certainly hope that will be the case.

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[Images: BioArchitects]
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