3D printing for better healthcare

18 January 2023

A laptop and a model of spine on a table. In a box is another spine.

3D-printed models can help doctors better understand a patient’s anatomy.

Anatomical models for surgeons to practise on, patient-specific prostheses and implants, specially designed tools and pharmaceuticals... the list of areas within healthcare that could benefit from 3D printing is a long one. It is for this reason that a collaborative project in which Uppsala University is participating is now being launched – and to enhance Uppsala’s already strong position in this area.

“Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing as it is also known, has the potential to revolutionise both research and the development and manufacture of pharmaceuticals and advanced equipment for research and diagnostics, for example. And not only that, but also how implants and tissues destined for transplants will be produced in the future,” explains Johan Kreuger, Head of the Department of Medical Cell Biology and project manager at Uppsala University.

A core feature of the project is to expand 3D-printing activities at Uppsala University Hospital. In the initial stage, the ability to print anatomical models based on image data will be expanded. These models can then be used by doctors, healthcare staff and students to gain a better understanding of a patient’s anatomy, such as a complicated bone fracture.

“3D-printed models can also be used to train surgeons and create specially adapted tools that facilitate surgical interventions. In the future, improved, patient-specific implants will also be able to be manufactured using new and better materials,” continues Kreuger.

Running over three years

Operators also participating in the collaborative project alongside Uppsala University include Region Uppsala, Uppsala University Hospital, the Foundation for Collaboration between the Universities in Uppsala, Business and Society, RegSmart, Uppsala Innovation Centre and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. The project, which will run over three years, has a total budget of SEK 20 million and is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Region Uppsala, among others.

Uppsala University already has well-developed 3D-printing infrastructure, partly in the form of U-PRINT at the the Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, of which Kreuger is director, and partly in the form of AM@Å at the Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology. They have established a close collaboration with each other to drive research in this field. AM4Life, an international 3D-printing competence centre, is also based here.

“Intensive research is being conducted at the University into new materials for additive manufacturing for applications within the life sciences. And various ambitious projects are also being launched at the University together with other universities and companies, focusing on 3D printing of implants and bioprinting of tissue, among other areas,” notes Kreuger.