3D Printing in the Medical Field
Rapid advances in technology have accelerated the pace of new developments in many areas of daily life, and it would be tough to find a greater example than the impact of 3D printing on the medical field.
3D printing in the medical field is creating opportunities for physicians, designers, and researchers. Medical products and devices can now be quickly and accurately fabricated with 3D printing on an as-needed basis. 3D printing also enables necessary modifications for an individual application or patient.
3D Printing and Prosthetics
One development in 3D printing that has the potential to immediately and directly impact patient quality of life is the new trend of 3D printed prosthetics. Traditional prosthetics are custom made and extremely expensive. Children’s prosthetics in particular typically need to be replaced frequently due to growth or breakage.
With simple, inexpensive, and readily available 3D printing, prosthetics patients now find that barriers such as cost and access are greatly reduced. 3D printing of prosthetics has improved countless lives around the globe. In parts of the world such as Uganda and Sudan, where war has taken a devastating toll on the population in terms of lost limbs, traditional prosthetics are largely unavailable. 3D printing prosthetics has restored quality of life to these patients.
Creating Living Tissue With 3D Printing
Bioprinting is 3D printing with living tissue — and it is creating medical miracles. 3D printing living tissue such as liver tissue, heart valves, blood vessels, muscle tissue, cartilage, bone, and even skin are all in development. This innovation of 3D printing in the medical field is invaluable for researchers who are developing new drugs, researching toxicology, and creating treatment protocols, as the ethical concerns of experimenting on live patients is no longer a concern.
Someday, 3D printing could replace organ transplants and grafts. A burn or trauma victim could have new, live tissue such as muscle 3D printed directly into wounds. In the future, reconstructive surgery could include 3D printing new, custom bone and cartilage to closely match the victim’s original tissue. 3D printing tissue means it can be custom created with multiple layers of tissue types — lessening or eliminating concerns such as donor availability and tissue rejection. A handheld 3D printer is even in development to print live skin onto patients to replace skin grafts!
Creating Medical Devices With 3D Printing
Manufacturers of medical devices such as orthopedics have been utilizing 3D printing to optimize the design of medical implants and instruments. 3D printing in the medical field has allowed creation of multiple different models during the design process. Now, researchers can test variations of different designs and material combinations on an incremental level, saving both time and money. This means that with 3D printing, the design of medical devices is moving at a much more rapid pace than in the past.
The Next Big Thing
The next big application for 3D printing in the medical field is custom drug formulations. First approved by the FDA in 2015, 3D printing of pharmaceutical formulations has widespread implications for obtaining and taking various medications.
In theory, 3D printing would make exact, specific dosages and formulations designed for each individual’s needs as simple as a button click. Someday, advances in 3D printing may mean patients take a medication “blueprint” to a pharmacy to have their custom medication formulation 3D printed on the spot.
Patients could even be 3D printing their own custom medications at home — combining formulas and dosages in combinations that increase efficacy, ease dosage scheduling concerns, and eliminate problems such as allergies to binders.
3D printing could potentially shift the focus of the pharmaceutical industry from research and manufacturing to the development of formulations. The ease and convenience of 3D printing would mean that issues with storage, packaging, transportation, expiration, and disposal of medications would be eliminated. 3D printing medications could offer benefits ranging from reduced environmental impacts to lowered pricing and greater effectiveness.
The Future of 3D Printing in the Medical Field
3D printing in the medical field has created a new era in medical advancements. Personalizing devices, instruments, and drug formulations through 3D printing will certainly increase the effectiveness of a range of medical treatments, while the pace of breakthroughs in medical research can be expected to continue to speed up.
3D printing living organs for transplantation is on the horizon, and the full potential of 3D printing is just beginning to be explored. We can look forward to many new and exciting developments in 3D printing in the medical field in the coming years.
If you’re interested in learning more about 3D printing, contact the European Subcontracting Network. We would love to connect you with a professional whose services match your needs!