3D printing in the medical sector

3D printing has arguably seen its most significant impact in the fields of healthcare and medical printing.

Over the last decade, there have been major breakthroughs in the development of personalised medical treatments and interventions. There is a growing strong demand for custom and patient-specific medical applications. This is due to the fact that treatment is more greatly tailored to the individual’s circumstances, bringing about better results. There are now devices and implements to assist medical professionals, custom-made prosthetic limbs, and cell-derived tissues and organs.

All this, over the last ten years, has marked a significant development in 3D medical printing in healthcare. 

The key benefits of 3D printing go beyond cost-effectiveness, flexibility, and adaptability.  Custom-made prosthetics and devices are just one example of its applications. Other notable innovations include:

  • Anatomical models for surgical planning and education
  • Tissue and organ fabrication
  • Personalised medical products and equipment

Prosthetics and Materials Science

Several companies have been using this technology for some time to create tailor-made prosthetic devices. These include extremities (limbs) and even 3D printed customised prosthetic skin replacement made from biodegradable material.

Although nascent, these developments coupled with more sophisticated printers mean there could be even more innovation in the coming years.  

3D Learning Tools

Real-sized 3D models of anatomical areas are now becoming available for radiology. Surgical teams can also use them to glean information from patients’ scans. They can create exact replicas, which can be used for team planning and simulation before an operation takes place. 

These anatomical models are also used to consult with patients. They help to explain their medical conditions to them and how the surgical procedure will take place.

Additionally, these models can also be used in educational and training centres. They give medical students the chance to get a realistic view of high-frequency abnormalities like tumours, fractures, and lesions. This knowledge will enhance their insight and skills when managing these abnormalities in a real-life context.

The Future of Organ Transplants

Using the patient’s own cells and other organic materials, researchers in Israel have developed the world’s first 3D printed heart. It even has the capacity to pump blood. Up to now, it was only feasible to print heart tissues without blood vessels.

Now, a unique 3D printing method can generate tissue building blocks containing micropores. These allow nutrients and other fluids to circulate. Research suggests that the potential for the creation of manufactured tissues containing blood vessels is within reach.

When put alongside a 3D model of a patient’s anatomy, the insights extracted makes the surgical intervention more secure. It also results in higher success rates. Until recently, surgeons had to use on-screen 2D or 3D images. 

These couldn’t always give the fullest of pictures regarding potential problems before stepping into the operating theatre. A good example of two developments in 3D printing complementing each other perfectly.

Mobile Technology 

Healthcare facilities in countries like Kenya have been able to benefit from innovations in mobile 3D medical printing technology. Portable 3D printers are now capable of producing medical equipment like clamps, braces, and vacuum pumps.

They can do so at very low prices compared to previous manufacturing costs. As such, activity has now become focused on making this technology more available to health centres located in remote locations. Parts of countries, that is, that were previously very hard and costly to reach.

The possibilities seem endless where 3D medical printing is concerned. Its applications are already sparking a revolution in increasingly cash-strapped and in-demand healthcare systems. And these innovations apply not only in developed economies but across the harder to reach parts of the world. 

Places burdened with perfectly treatable health problems but which have remained inaccessible for the complex and sophisticated treatments needed. Now, these regions can begin to put solutions to their most pressing problems in place.

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