3D Printing for Medical Use

Find out everything you need to know about 3D printing for medical use by checking out our latest blog post. Read now!

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has played a key role in breakthroughs in the medical field. These breakthroughs are saving lives and making history.

3D printing in medicine has – just as it has done in other fields – enabled customization, prototyping, manufacturing, and research. The areas of application for 3D printing are broad, going beyond general medical practice and research. Here are the ways 3D printing technology is ideally suited for benefiting and advancing the medical field.

3D Printing Application in Medicine
Dr. Darin T. Okuda, a neuroimmunologist at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, just developed a method that can accurately identify multiple sclerosis lesions in the brain.

3D Printing for Surgical Preparation and Learning Tools

3D printing is revolutionizing how surgeons prepare for surgery. The technology is used for replicating patient-specific organs from scan data that allow the surgeon to practice and prepare before the actual complicated operation takes place.

The surgeon is able to physically handle and visualize the anatomical model that is specific to the patient about to undergo surgery. This enables the surgeon to get to know the patient’s exact anatomy from multiple angles and anticipate what to expect during the operation.

It is far better and more accurate than just looking at X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. This method of using 3D printing technology in surgical planning has proven to speed up procedures and minimize trauma to the patient, increasing the likelihood of success in the patient’s recovery. In addition, the use of 3D printing has shown the potential for huge savings in both time and cost.

In the same manner as helping surgeons prepare for surgery, 3D printing of anatomical models helps with medical education. Traditionally, clinical training, education, and device testing have relied on the use of animal models, human cadavers, and mannequins for providing hands-on experience.

These options have several deficiencies such as limited supply, the expense of handling and storage, the lack of pathology within the models, inconsistencies of human anatomy, and the inability to accurately represent tissue characteristics of a living human.

With 3D printing, models produced from patient scan data help with the diagnosis of illnesses, outline treatment decisions, as well as aiding in clinical applications and training.

Pfizer Scientists use MakerBot
Pfizer scientists use MakerBot to help develop an efficient way to test a new line of osteo and rheumatoid arthritis drugs.

3D Printing for Prostheses

3D printing is being used in medicine for helping in the development of prosthetic limbs. Prostheses manufactured in the traditional manner are known to be extremely expensive (costs range from $5,000 – $50,000), time-consuming, and also uncomfortable for the patient.

3D printing enables prostheses to be designed that are specific to the patient’s needs as well as being cost-effective. Victims of natural disasters and war refugees are now receiving prostheses that, prior to 3D printing, were unavailable to them because of the prohibitive costs involved.

Mouth Operated Mouse
“Mouth Operated Mouse” wins 2015 Thingiverse assistive technology challenge.

3D Printing for Tissues and Organs

A particularly exciting application of 3D printing in medicine is that tissues and human organs can now be 3D printed. In the field of transplants, 3D printing increases the acceptance of the transplanted tissue or organ by the patient’s body as customized organ development uses the patient’s own cells. It also solves any moral and ethical issues related to traditional transplant methods.

Skin tissue repair and reconstruction, limb replacement, kidney and heart transplants, to name just a few, are being successfully performed because of 3D printing.

Bone and muscle repair are made possible with the 3D printing of orthopedic implants for hips, knees, spine, and skull.

Biocompatible 3D printing materials such as titanium and cobalt – chrome alloys are 3D printed for use in jaw and face surgeries and orthopedics. The superior surface geometry produced by 3D printing has been shown to improve implant survival rate by a factor of 2 when compared to traditional implant products.

The ability to 3D print tissue cells and organs is promoting research for diseases such as cancer. By studying and understanding how tumors grow and develop, researchers get closer to finding a cure.

3D Printing for Medication Dosage and Pharmacology

3D printing potentially simplifies the administration of drugs to a patient. 3D printed pills can be designed for patients with multiple ailments. The 3D printed pill contains multiple dosages of drugs, each with a different release time. This solves the issue of diverse drug interaction and eliminates the need for exhaustive monitoring of drug intake when the patient’s medications have different schedules.

3D printed pills can be cost-effective, making the technology affordable and accessible to health programs in poorer, developing countries.

3D Printing for Medical Tools and Devices

Using metal 3D printing, surgical tools and other medical devices can be 3D printed for medical professionals to use. Some examples are forceps, hemostats, scalpel handles and clamps, and other sterile tools.

Lead times to create tools, whether in-house or outsourced, can be lengthy and expensive. 3D printing produces these tools in a more sterile form than traditional manufacturing methods and at a cost 10x less than their stainless steel equivalents.

The 3D printing process allows tools to be designed and iterated for a specific need in unique shapes based on direct feedback from a physician in a matter of hours. It also enables the quick replacement of tools when needed.

3D Printing for Hearing Aids

Over 10,000,000 people are now wearing 3D printed hearing aids, with 97% of all hearing aids produced globally being created using 3D printing. The technology enables the production of complex and organic surfaces required for hearing aids. 3D printing has not only significantly reduced the cost of custom hearing aids but has reduced returns because of bad fit from 40% to 10%.

3D Printing for Dental Applications

3D printing has applications in dentistry fields ranging from orthodontics to general dentistry. It is being integrated into orthodontics with the fabrication of customized braces that better fit the patient.

Because 3D printing is easily adopted into clinics, labs, and dental offices, it is being used for dental restorations, making castable crowns, dental bridges, and denture frameworks and bases. It has enabled dentistry professionals to offer chair-side care at a lower cost with controlled treatment plans. It minimizes wait times because no mold is needed; the crown or bridge can be printed directly.

The precision, speed, and low cost of 3D printing are advancing the medical field in a variety of ways. These advancements result in greater patient comfort, more in-depth understanding for doctors, and less of a drain on the pocketbook.