Scientists from the Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic have used 3D printing to develop a functional model of a human lung. The researchers say the 3D printed lung could be used to simulate the effect of inhaled drugs for respiratory conditions.
The medical uses for 3D printing are many and varied. Additive technologies have been used to create surgical tools, implants, and even 3D printed synthetic human organs (using special 3D bioprinting equipment). Those 3D bioprinted organs are providing a great deal of promise for the pharmaceutical industry, as they can be used to test the effect of certain drugs on the human body without having to resort to dangerous human testing. But while having a synthetic 3D printed liver to pump drugs into is very useful, it’s also very expensive. Bioprinting is a cutting-edge technology, and prices for its equipment and services reflect that.
Fortunately for the pharmaceutical research world, 3D printing in cheap plastic materials can sometimes be just as beneficial as 3D bioprinting a human organ made up of real human stem cells. This is because some testing is more concerned with tracking the physical disbursement of a drug throughout the human body than monitoring its specific physiological effects. A research group from the Brno University of Technology, for example, has used 3D printing to create a functional 3D printed model of a human lung. Could you transplant it into a human subject? Certainly not, but the plastic model can accurately demonstrate how an inhaled drug moves about the respiratory system, showing the researchers if their developing drug is reaching the right areas.
In actual fact, the Brno team is so confident in its 3D printed lung, it believes the medical model could become the European standard for testing of this sort, and has applied for three individual patents in relation to it. Using the 3D printed organ model, researchers from around the world could potentially test certain aspects of treatments for respiratory problems. They would not be able to ascertain whether a drug might cause a patient a headache, but they would be able to tell if a drug could successfully permeate the right areas of the body. “This model will show whether an inhaled drug will settle in the concrete areas where we need it to,” said Miroslav Jicha, head of the research team.
The 3D printed lung model developed by Jicha and his team can, according to the researchers, also be used for other uses besides developing inhaled drugs. Since it functions just like the human respiratory system, the model can also be used simulate respiratory conditions such as asthma, an inflammatory disease that affects the airways of the lungs that currently has no cure. By replicating the physical triggers of asthma on the 3D printed lung, researchers can devise treatment methods with more precision, and can even tweak the model to replicate the respiratory system of an individual patient in order to create a tailored treatment plan. The 3D printed medical device could also be used to train medical students about the respiratory system in a more interactive manner.