Two 3D printers at the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases are changing the way educators, researchers and students approach a wide variety of challenges inside and outside of labs and classrooms.

Dr. Vittorio Cristini, professor and director at the Center for Precision Biomedicine, said the two large-scale 3D printers at the NanoChemistry Service Center (1825 Pressler St., Houston, TX 77030) consists of a Fortus 450mc and a multi-color PolyJet Stratasys J750 3D printer. Both were purchased in late 2016 with funds from a STAR award given to Cristini.

“There are so many applications for state-of-the-art 3D printing,” Cristini said. The printers can be used to build surgical tools with the proper shape and softness that can be inserted into organs for complicated procedures, create model organs to practice patient-specific operations or use them as educational tools, and build prototypes of other medical devices or models for research purposes.

In particular, Cristini has interest in printing models of patient organs and growing tumors on them to study their growth and potential cancer treatments.

“Ultimately, what will be fantastic will be the ability to grow real tissue – not just scaffolds,” Cristini said. “Printing tissues means we can develop a new, superior generation of living cancer models. We can try to reproduce the tumor that is in a patient’s organ, for example, to see how it grows or try chemotherapy drugs on it. This is not science fiction – it’s really on the horizon.”

Dr. David Volk, assistant professor at the Center for Precision Biomedicine, said the printers can be a great teaching tool for residents, with some examples being the printing of a patient’s liver and other heart models for complicated pediatric surgeries and other procedures. There also are several key advantages to utilizing 3D printing in the production of tools, such as making adjustments to models before going into large-scale production.

The technology also serves the scientific community at large for their printing needs and may bring in new research.

“We can do jobs for other people but we can also use it for scientific operations,” Cristini said. “If someone wants to collaborate with a federal grant focused on growing tissue and studying it, or creating a surgical device and applying it to clinical trials, part of that budget would be used for the printing costs, so it would be an opportunity to bring in federal money.”

To help give people an idea of the process, Aaron Minard from Tech-Labs, the company behind the Stratasys printers, will be giving an hour long presentation about the different uses of 3D printing and a short lab demo. Volk will be present and a small item will be printed to demonstrate the process. The seminar will be held 1 to 2:30 p.m. Sept 14, in Room SRB 109/110 at the IMM (1825 Pressler St., Houston, TX 77030). For more information, visit the event page here.