KGI Students Get 'Oriented' to a New School Year by Printing Organs, Implants and other Body Parts
Based on real-life uses of the technology, 3D printing projects help students get a handle on innovation in the biotech industry
This year as part of orientation week running from Monday, Aug. 25 to Friday, Aug. 29, new students at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) will kick off the academic year by making new body parts, including a brain cap, craniofacial implants, kidney vasculature, a hip joint, a trachea splint, and assorted bones.
The students will be divided into 24 teams of 5-6 people, with each team being assigned one of 6 3D printing projects. Each project is based on a "real-life" use of 3D printing technology-one that is currently being developed or is already in use by research scientists and physicians. For example, on March 25, 2014, officials at University Medical Center Utrecht in Netherlands announced that doctors there had successfully used 3D printing to replace a complete skull cap in a woman with van Buchem disease. Found only in the Netherlands, van Buchem is a rare condition in which the skull thickens over time, placing increased pressure on the brain, leading to brain dysfunction and eventual death. The team at UMC Utrecht used a precise 3D printed skull cap in lieu of a plastic cement formed implant that is the current standard of care.
"Students come to KGI because they are interested in launching their professional careers in the life science industry. Today, 3D printing technology is creating new opportunities for helping patients and creating growth companies," said Dr. Joel West, professor of innovation and entrepreneurship. "This technology has an incredible potential to transform medical device and prosthesis production, tissue engineering and organ transplants. Starting the year with a project like this one engages our students and gives them a glimpse into the potential of the life sciences to enrich society."
The student teams will be given four days to work on their projects. Each team will then have to submit two items printed using a 3D printer. The first being an anatomical geometry of the part relevant to their assigned project (the first step in the printing and design process) and the second is their own design for mimicking the body part or implant described in their assigned project. For example, the team assigned to the brain cap project will submit its own design for printing one. The teams will also do business, regulatory and clinical analysis of the impact of the relevant technology. In addition to 3D printing their designs, they will be asked to give a short presentation and answer questions on the feasibility of commercializing their project design.
"I think actually getting in there and designing the implant or body part gives them a sense of how many problems have to be solved and challenges overcome in creating any new technology and bringing it to the marketplace," said Dr. Anna Hickerson, a KGI professor and director of the Medical Devices and Diagnostics program. Hickerson is a listed inventor on 12 U.S. patents with several more pending.
"Just because you create the geometry of a liver out of liver tissue does not make it a functioning organ. You have to have a vascular network for supplying nutrients and removing waste in addition to performing the intended function of the organ. There is so much that goes into this technology or any type of bioengineering discovery. You can't fully understand it until you get in there and try to do it yourself," adds Hickerson.
At the end of the presentations on Friday, Aug. 29, a judging panel will select a best overall design from among the teams.