3D printing is the process of taking a virtual blueprint of an object and then ‘printing’ the object in 3D. 3D printing is currently being used by parts manufacturers to create airplane are car materials quickly and cost-effectively, but the possibilities for 3D printing application are endless. 3D printing has the potential to prove extremely useful in the medical field. Students in America have successfully printed a number of surgical tools, including scalpels and forceps, that are sterile and considerably cheaper than the tools currently used. Bio-printing is the process of using bio-ink to print living tissue layer by layer to create new cells, tissues and maybe even organs. Scientists have so far managed to successfully 3D print kidney cells, heart cells (that beat like an actual heart) and liver cells. Skin cells have also been successfully printed; in the future, it is hoped it will be possible to print skin grafts for use in the treatment of burns victims and cancer patients.
The number of people surviving cancer is on the rise, and scientists hope that a new and innovative treatment method could help to cure even more cancer patients. Current treatments typically involve either removing the tumour surgically, blasting the tumour with radiation, or administering chemotherapy drugs to the patient. Although these drugs have proven successful in treating cancer patients, they don’t always work, and the side effects of undergoing current cancer treatment can be traumatising for patients. Immunotherapy is a novel type of cancer treatment that aims to boost the body’s natural immune system and encourage it to recognise and attack quickly dividing cancer cells. The treatment can involve either antibodies, naturally occurring T cells, or modified viruses that attach to cancer cells and destroy them. Innovations in cancer treatment are largely due to an increased understanding of the mechanisms of cancer cells and their interactions with their environment. 3D and 4D imaging technologies enable scientists to observe cells in extreme detail. Software such as the ImarisCell software from bitplane.com has been developed to facilitate scientists’ attempts to analyse cell behaviour.
The future of medicine is likely to yield some fascinating and incredible innovations – but it’s also likely to reveal some disasters. One such pending disaster is antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are medicines used to treat bacterial infections. Over time, bacteria become accustomed to the antibiotics used to kill them and amend their biology to avoid the medicine’s harmful effects. This is known as antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance is a natural phenomenon, but the process can be unnaturally accelerated by antibiotic misuse. Antibiotic resistance is one of the most pressing issues in the medical field; diseases that were previously easy to treat (such as tuberculosis and pneumonia) are now becoming difficult to treat. In the future, antibiotics are less likely to be prescribed by doctors, and the number of antibiotics available for use is likely to be smaller. Although efforts are being made to source new antibiotics, very few new drugs have been discovered in the past few decades.
With antibiotic resistance on the rise, it’s likely that more emphasis will be placed on preventing diseases than on curing them. Simple ways to prevent infections included regularly washing hands, practicing safer sex to reduce the likelihood of contracting an STI, and covering one’s nose and mouth when coughing to prevent the spread of infection.
As well as preventing infections, scientists are also working on ways to prevent other conditions, such as cancer and heart attacks. Tests are also being developed to help identify patients who are at risk of suffering a heart attack or developing other conditions.