The 3D-Printing revolution in the manufacturing industry continues to find unique applications that feel as if they were pulled directly from a science fiction novel. While the majority of 3D-Printing’s reputation has centered around prototyping tools and toys for developers and hobbyists, the medical industry has applied the new technology to improve and save lives.
Supplied with specialized 3D printing machines and scanning technology, medical device researchers and developers have created patient-specific solutions that can be adapted on location. Access to these 3D printing capabilities in hospitals has the potential to cause an evolution in medical procedures and patient assisting medical devices.
The passion and drive of medical device researchers to help create 3D printers that can manufacture living organs, such as a heart, kidney, or liver, promises to not only transform the operating room but also to perpetuate the development of 3D technology as well. While 3D-printed hearts and livers aren’t quite ready yet, the first steps have already taken place. Here are four already established ways 3D printing technology is saving lives.
1. 3D Printed Skin Grafts
A process that has been named 3D Bioprinting has already taken the medical world by storm. This technique developed by medical researchers allows living cells to be used in the printing process. The first successful organ to be bioprinted is human skin complete with blood vessels.
While these skin grafts have only been applied in research cases, the advances made in the scanning technologies needed to map organs for recreation has already improved medical diagnostic capabilities by offering higher detailed imagery along with access to previously unavailable viewpoints of a patient’s anatomy.
2. Patient-specific Surgical Tools
People are incredibly diverse in anatomy and the tools needed to safely and delicately access vital organs during surgery may need to be adjusted to get the right access in a patient’s body without causing harm. Whether it’s printing tools with specific shapes to avoid nicking an artery or it’s an airway splint for a newborn baby, 3D printed are expediting medical production needs and saving valuable time needed to help their patient survive and recover.
3. Body Implants
A less urgent but still serious application is orthopedic implants. 3D printed hip and knee replacements can be specially designed to fit a patient’s structure and provide a more comfortable and permanent solution. Orthopedics have also made use of this technology in spinal and CMF implants. These replacements have already allowed older patients to safely walk and be active.
Among the most well-known but still interesting uses of 3D printed technology is prosthetic limbs. While it may be an idea straight out of cyberpunk fantasy, the use of prosthetic arms, legs, hands, feet, and even exoskeletons is already common practice among amputees and those with special needs. The function and form of these designs have been reworked and traded among medical prosthetic designers and they even share some of that technology for free to the public.
The 3D Printing Revolution marches on and supplies the world with an array of emergent technologies. While we can already see where some of this technology is going, the future of bioprinting may yet introduce even more surprising applications.