GUEST POST: How 3D Printing Could Help Cancer Patients
Advocate for 3D Bioprinting

*** The following contribution is from Virgil Anderson, a tireless advocate for awareness around workplace asbestos exposure, as well as someone who was diagnosed with mesothelioma ***

3D printing is revolutionizing many industries, but the possibility that this technology could print cells, tissues, and organs for human patients is perhaps the most exciting application. In fact, cells and organs have already been printed, but the ability to use them in patients is yet to be confirmed. One type of patient this could really help is someone struggling with an incurable cancer like mesothelioma. 3D printing could give hope to these patients that they never expected.

Virgil’s Story
There are countless examples of people losing their battles with incurable or late-stage cancer. Just one of these is Virgil Anderson, who was exposed to asbestos on the job throughout his career. He worked in demolition as a teenager and later with cars and as a mechanic. In both jobs he was exposed to the hazardous fibers of asbestos, inhaled them, and decades later developed pleural mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a cancer that may attack the pleural tissue around the lungs, the tissue around the abdominal or even the tissue, called the pericardium, around the heart. This is a cancer that is difficult to treat and that is often misdiagnosed. In Virgil’s case he was already at an advanced stage of pleural mesothelioma when he was diagnosed. He has battled the cancer, undergoing chemotherapy to slow its growth, but hope is minimal and his cancer is not curable. What future patients like Virgil could benefit from is 3D bio-printing.

Bio-Printing Healthy Organs and Tissues
What many patients with mesothelioma need is healthy, non-cancerous tissue. In the case of pleural mesothelioma, for instance, the most aggressive treatment is a type of surgery that removes one entire lung, much of the pleural tissue, lymph nodes, and part of the diaphragm. This has the potential to cure the cancer, but it also puts the patient at risk of a number of other health problems.

If a healthy, cancer-free, bio-printed lung and other tissues could be transplanted into the patient, these problems might be minimized. Other diseases and cancers may be similarly treated in the future with 3D printed hearts and other organs. Printed tissues, rather than entire organs, may also be able to help diseased organs heal. Using stem cells like an ink, cells and tissue could be printed and then implanted into lungs to help replace and repair damage caused by tumors and surgery.

3D Printing for Safer Surgery
For someone like Virgil with advanced pleural mesothelioma, surgery is not even an option for treatment because it is too risky and because the cancer is too widespread. There is also a potential for 3D printing to help make these surgeries safer and to give hope for treatment to more patients. The technology can be used to map a patient’s body to make the surgery more accurate and precise.

The future of 3D printing is exciting for medicine and for patients. Those who live with little hope of good treatment or a cure for a terrible type of cancer like mesothelioma can look forward to this technology being applied to help others. While the technology is not yet ready for entire organs to be printed and transplanted, experts see it as becoming a reality soon.


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