Sébastien Meunier

Sébastien Meunier

Director Industrial Transformation and Entrepreneurship

Tel. +41 61 295 50 15



3D printing: rapidly developing technology in life sciences

The “3D Printing for Life Sciences 2018” symposium organised on 27 June 2018 by, FHNW University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland, and University Hospital Basel brought together more than 140 people for a day focused on three exciting topics in the life sciences: bioprinting, the medical devices industry and medical 3D printing. Participants included surgeons, physicians and industry representatives, as well as researchers, making for an extremely productive mix.

From muscle fibres to organs

Bioprinting offers huge, hitherto undreamed of potential. Printing skin, muscle tissue or bone matter is already a reality, but you can’t yet print an organ, even though things are heading in that direction. These developments will, for example, allow pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies to carry out in vitro testing and reduce testing on animals. Researchers and engineers can functionalise printed items, for instance by adding tubes for irrigation. This means arteries can be printed, and work is under way on smaller blood vessels.

Research is moving in numerous different directions: combining 3D printing techniques with others such as microfluidics, developing knowledge in bio sciences and accumulating experience in printing itself as well as test procedures, the use of cells and more.

Maurizio Gullo, a researcher at FHNW, is taking us on the first step towards bio implants that would grow with the patient. His work has produced an initial microsolution, which now has to be developed and upscaled.

The sector is consolidating

3D printing for medical devices is at a more advanced stage than bioprinting and is becoming more structured and industrialised. Personalised implants printed in 3D are increasingly common. Dupuy Synthes is one of several firms working all across the value chain, from acquiring and digitalising the patient data to putting the personalised implant in place. There are plenty of challenges. Data confidentiality, for example, or a turnaround time that can be as long as 5 or 6 weeks in some cases (even before speaking to the insurance company) can be hard to reconcile with the needs of the patient. Regulation is changing and has moved on from the Medical Device Directive (MDD) to the Medical Device Regulation (MDR), demanding further efforts from manufacturers and players in the field.

Materials like titanium and ceramics are evolving in line with printing techniques. 3D Ceram is engaged in a European programme to print several materials at the same time, such as two different ceramics or a ceramic/polymer combination.

3D printing means production can be local and on demand. The problem for organisations like TÜV Süd is to define the rules needed to avoid as many risks as possible while experience is still low.

Potential risks related to the process for developing personalised medical devices are starting to emerge. Surgeons and engineers do not work in the same environment and do not do things the same way, but they still need to collaborate effectively.

3D printing in hospitals: an indispensable tool

Professor Hans-Florian Zeilhofer of University Hospital Basel started his historical overview of 40 years of 3D printing techniques in maxillo-facial surgery by emphasising the importance of teaching industry, researchers and physicians to work together to come up with innovative solutions.

Basel Hospital has opened a "fablab" which has over a dozen 3D printers that can be used by any department. This features reproductions of parts of patients’ anatomy made from a CT (computerised tomography) scan. Florian Thieringer of University Hospital Basel has a double goal: to explain complex operations to patients and to give physicians a quick tool that the different doctors and specialists can gather around to discuss and define the stages for optimum treatment.

We will be following up on these fascinating and fast-moving topics next year.


Life Sciences
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