Multidisciplinary Platform for 3D Printing

Developed by: Instituto de Investigación Sanitaria Biodonostia


As a result of the work carried out with regard to the start-up of the strategic areas “INNOVATION aimed at the market and at results for health” and “TRANSLATIONAL GROWTH of the activity”, which form part of the BioDonostia HRI 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, a new Platform was set up in the Institute in 2018: “Multidisciplinary Platform for 3D Printing” that provides support in the following two areas of knowledge: “3D Biomodelling Unit” and “3D Biomanufacturing Unit”.

  • The “3D Biomodelling Unit” is located in the Donostialdea IHO health service, and provides a service in the area of biomodels, meaning the modelling of disease (mainly tumours) to improve surgical approaches and patient operating times, as well as to personalise prosthetic implants.
  • The “3D Biomanufacturing Unit” is located on the second floor of the Institute, and provides a service in the area of bioprinting cells and tissue to be used in approaches based on regenerative medicine.

3D Biomodelling Unit

When a professional believes that 3D printing can help them in the decision-making process, in surgical planning, or simply when they are curious about 3D printing technology, they contact the Multidisciplinary Working Group in 3D, made up of surgeons, radiologists and biomedical engineers, who are able to transform the radiological information obtained by CAT scan or MRI into a 3D model.

If, in the Multidisciplinary Working Group in 3D, the radiologists see on any imaging test what the doctor needs to observe, and the engineer can print out the region of interest, a first case is prepared (corresponding to a patient who has already undergone an operation) for test purposes. If the result is satisfactory, they plan how to include the creation of 3D printed models as an additional test.

To sum up, we can affirm that the 3D Biomodelling Unit, through its use of plastic models that offer an exact representation in three dimensions of the characteristics of the tumour in each patient's case, makes the following advantages possible:

  • The surgeon and the other health professionals can improve surgery planning before it begins, which, in turn, improves their confidence in the most appropriate surgical approach, reduces operating times, and makes it possible to better adapt prostheses and implants to meet the individual anatomical requirements of each patient, without the time pressure associated with surgical interventions.
  • It improves the patients’ visualisation of their pathology and their understanding of the risks involved in the procedure, which, in turn, boosts their confidence in the medical team and reduces any anxiety they may feel about the surgery. Furthermore, patients benefit from shorter, guided surgical procedures, which reduce the possibility of associated complications.
  • Society on the whole benefits, as there are fewer surgical complications and reduced associated costs for the National Health Service.

The Donostialdea IHO services and sections that develop biomodels are the following: Colorectal surgery, Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic surgery, Maxillofacial surgery, Thoracic surgery, Vascular surgery and Traumatology.

3D Biomanufacturing Unit

It is coordinated by professionals in the field of biological sciences, with the participation of surgeons. It provides a service in the area of bioprinting cells and tissue to be used in approaches based on regenerative medicine.

Some tumours are extracted with adjacent tissue to ensure they are properly eliminated, and the surgically created defect must be “filled in” with replacement tissue, which is not ideal, natural, or personalised for this use. There is some margin for improvement in the generation of tissue substitutes for each patient, and which at least partially replace the functionality that was lost during the operation to extract the tumour. The substitutes are not without their own complications, and it is important to commence testing on animal models to ensure they are safe for future use in humans. The “3D Biomanufacturing Unit” will help ensure that, in the work carried out at the “3D Biomodelling Unit”, there can be a clear increase in patients’ expectations and requirements, as more natural and personalised tissue substitutes are created for each case, and which can replace the functionality that is lost when operating on tumours.