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3D-Printed Medical Magic

Since it was introduced, 3D-printing technology has taken the world by storm. From disrupting the fashion industry to shaking up traditional home construction, 3D printing is fabricating a path for itself into modern society. Even the medical community is warming up to the new technology, as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $211,000 Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant to an engineer at the University of Texas at Arlington to develop 3D-printable materials for developing new blood vessels for children.

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Engineer Yi Hong, in partnership with Guohao Dai of Northeastern University, is setting his sights on fighting vascular defects in children. Children are more difficult to treat than adults because their bodies grow much quicker than any graft, meaning that these grafts are in need of constant replacement with multiple invasive surgeries.

In light of this problem, the bioengineering duo is attempting to create a range of 3D-printed materials that can be transformed into flexible, patient-specific blood vessels. These materials can then be mixed with human cells to create a fixture among biological blood vessels. Their elasticity could significantly improve the lives of children with vascular defects who currently need multiple invasive surgeries per graft. The printed blood vessels might also reduce the risk of thrombosis compared to that posed by traditional grafts.

Potential Impact

There are many types of vascular abnormalities that affect children. Some examples include aneurysms, which are sacs that can form on arteries in the brain; arteriovenous malformations, which are tangles of thin, easily ruptured vessels in the brain or spinal cord; and moyamoya disease, which blocks blood flow to the brain due to constricted arteries. These conditions can cause symptoms such as headaches, seizures, and even coma. With today's therapies, children with vascular defects have it extremely rough — but if Hong's project can accomplish its goals, things could get better.

Hong is confident in his project, and his history in raising $850,000 in funds from grants for his past projects further supports that claim. Hong's method is ambitious, but his potential success will further solidify 3D printing's role in medicine, encouraging other medical scientists to think outside the box while helping improve the quality of people's lives.

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