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). However, 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. This is because some testing is more concerned with tracking the physical dispersement 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.