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3D Printing: the future of Biotech?

Posted on: 15 Oct

One of the most promising and dynamic new developments to hit the Biotech sector in recent years is 3D Printing. Though the concept has been around for thirty years or so, the advances in technology that we’ve seen in the past decade have opened the door to new opportunities to shape the fields of science and medicine.  

Indeed, 3D printing has massive potential for the medical industry as a whole, allowing scientists to push new boundaries whilst also ushering in a new future: one where medical solutions can be tailor-made to fit the patient’s needs, quickly and inexpensively. It could revolutionise healthcare, and is already generating interest around the world. In fact, the global 3D printing market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 18% between 2018 to 2024

What’s behind this revolution- and what knock-on effects can we expect to see in the jobs market?

The rise of 3D printing 

At its most basic, 3D printing is a way to ‘print’ three-dimensional objects, using a detailed digital file. By layering materials on top of each other, much in the same way a printer prints ink onto paper, these layers can be built up until the object is finished. This can be done with polymers, metals- and, most recently, human tissues. 

Growing public and private funding clearly implies that there is a lot of potential here. Indeed, companies like Sonova are already using this technology to create custom-fitted hearing aids for their patients, and still others are pioneering the use of 3D printed casts, which can even be embedded with ‘smart’ tech that alerts the user should swelling or other problems occur. It can be used to do everything from creating prosthetics to restructuring bones, paving the way for a cheaper and more effective form of healthcare.

The real interest, however- and where the most research is taking place- lies in bioprinting live tissues. Recent innovations have made it possible for scientists to replace some body parts by printing biocompatible materials into the shape of ‘scaffolds’, or models of body parts, that can then be covered with live cells. Hopefully, these cells will use the scaffold as a mould and grow into bones, tissues and muscles that can be used to replace damaged human cells: needless to say, this could revolutionise the way in which we perceive healthcare and medicine in the future.

Reducing costs

However, one of the biggest benefits of 3D printing would be the effect it will have on healthcare. In countries where it can be prohibitively expensive, 3D printing could fuel a democratisation of the industry by making it possible to manufacture new issues, new prosthetics and new treatments- many of which routinely cost thousands of pounds to produce- quickly and cheaply. Furthermore, the burgeoning industry of 3D-printing chemicals- which would make it possible to manufacture generics at a fraction of the cost- would open up the industry and let chemists focus on creating new molecules. It might even pave the way for a future where patients can take drugs and medical treatments that are tailor-made to them.

What does the future hold?

3D printing is innovating so quickly that innovations that seem impossible today may well be here in a matter of years. Biotech company Organovo has already developed a new printing method that allows companies to print liver tissues, upon which scientists can test new drugs. In the future, however, organs that are printed to order are a very real possibility, and the start-up Prellis Biologics have pioneered the use of holographic printing technology to manufacture capillaries in a way that suggests 3D-printed organs could make it onto the market within the next five years.

In addition to this, people are also looking to nanotechnology to deliver the next breakthrough in printing, using the versatility of DNA: DNA origami is already being pioneered in the medical industry, with individual DNA strands built by 3D printers to create unusual structures that can be used in robotics or in aiding drug delivery. This new innovation could even help to target ailments like cancer from within.

Does this mean more jobs?

In short, yes. With 3D printing taking off within the Biotech industry, there will likely be a mushrooming demand for specific roles, especially those involving engineering, design and modelling skills rather than simply ones focussed on life science. Anybody wanting to make their mark in the industry will likely also need a good grasp of coding and the latest technologies in order to thrive and continue to innovate within the sector. In fact, software engineers will likely be highly sought after, especially considering the technical nature of 3D printing. 

It’s time to start your new career

We’re excited to see what the future will bring- and the jobs that it will create along with it. If you’re looking to take your first steps into the world of nanotechnology, Biotech and Pharmaceuticals, there’s no better time: browse our vacancies below. 

Alternatively, if the cutting edge of Biotech interests you, why not take a look at our article on Antibiotic Resistance?