3D printing has been making big waves in the medical world since it was first used in surgery in its early form in 1999. Back then, an artificial bladder was made using a biodegradable scaffold created in 3D from a CT scan of the patient’s own bladder. Fast forward to the present day, and 3D printing is set to have a greater impact on medical science and may indeed one day save lives that would otherwise be lost.
It would seem that the sky is the limit when it comes to the potential of 3D printing in medical developments and breakthroughs. Today, certain areas of medicine are leveraging the technology to eradicate some of the greatest challenges of modern medicine.
How is 3D printing being used right now?
There are many areas in which the use of a 3D printing service is already a game changer. Transplant patients, for example, can benefit from the reduction in the time spent waiting for a suitable donor and the risk of organ rejection may also be reduced. People with medical conditions requiring the use of casts, can also be given personalised and rather more lightweight variants as opposed to traditional cumbersome versions.
Other procedures currently being carried out with the aid of 3D printing include prosthetics for amputees, heart valve replacements, and scaffolds to promote bone growth. Cancerous tumours have also been rendered in 3D by researchers in the United States and China. These are being used to gain a much better understanding as to how tumours develop, grow and behave as well as to aid in the discovery of new and highly effective anti-cancer drugs. This alone could mark a huge leap forward in finally beating certain life threatening cancers.
In poorer and more remote countries of the world, the ability to print medical equipment as and when needed means that patients can receive treatment sooner and more cost effectively. This can save a great deal of time and money otherwise required to purchase and ship the equipment to site in the usual manner. This effectively allows the hospitals in these locations to “manufacture” their own equipment.
The future of 3D printing in medicine
In addition to the obvious applications for 3D printing such as prosthetic limbs and precise models of organs, the technology could also be used in the future to dramatically change the way in which doctors work. Intricate pieces of equipment such as three lens cameras small enough to fit into a syringe could be printed and used for diagnostic procedures. Synthetic skin may soon be able to be grafted onto humans without the fear of rejection and 3D printed muscles, bones or even complete organs may very well become a reality in the not too distant future.
Another area in which progress is being made is the use of a 3D printing service to produce drugs. In 2015 the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) approved the first 3D printed pill and once this approach becomes more commonplace, we can expect that the way in which drugs are produced and distributed will change significantly. 3D printed drugs could also herald a new era of personalised medication, where drugs are tailored not only to the disease they are meant to treat, but also to the patient’s individual needs.