3D Printing technology has expanded and is useful in our daily lives as well as in the medical industry. We can 3D print many body parts that are cost effective and help save lives. Here are 10 things we can 3D print in medicine today.
1. Tissues with Blood Vessels
Researchers at Harvard University are making great progress in bio printing blood vessels,which is a crucial step towards printing tissues with a blood supply. The lab of Dr. Jennifer Lewis designed a custom-built 3D printer to create a part of a tissue containing skin cells intertwined with structural material that can potentially function as blood vessels.
2. Low-cost Prosthetic Parts
Creating traditional prosthetics is very time-consuming and destructive, because any modifications to the prosthetics would destroy the original molds. The cost of traditional prosthetics is a lot for those who don't have recources. Researchers at the University of Toronto, in collaboration with Autodesk Research and CBM Canada, used 3D printing to quickly produce cheap and easily customizable prosthetics for patients. Similarly, “Not Impossible Labs” based in Venice, California took 3D printers to Sudan where the chaos of war has left many people with amputated limbs. The organization’s founder, Mick Ebeling, trained locals how to operate the machinery, create patient–specific limbs, and fit these new, very inexpensive prosthetics. This work is also being driven by two major organizations, Robohand and E-Nable, whose 3D printable prosthetics have proliferated with wild success.
3. Medical Models
A group of researchers in China and the US have printed models of cancerous tumors to aid discovery of new anti-cancer drugs and to better understand how tumors develop, grow, and spread. Creating patient-specific models expands from medical research into practical application with the ability to prepare doctors for surgeries and reducing surgery times. Taking this one step further, there are numerous examples of using medical scan data to 3D print implants tailor-made for the patient.
In 2011, Professor Susmita Bose, of Washington State University, modified a ProMetal 3D printer to bind chemicals to a ceramic powder, creating scaffolds that help promote the growth of bone in any shape. Prof. Bose’s goal is to, one day, be able to implant the bone scaffold with bone growth factors in such a way that the implant is dissolved by natural bone material in even load-bearing bone structures.
5. Heart Valve
Jonathan Butcher, at Cornell University has printed a heart valve that will soon be tested in sheep. With a dual-syringe machine, he was able to print a combination of alginate, smooth muscle cells, and valve interstitial cells, to control the valve’s stiffness.
6. Ear Cartilage
Cornell’s Lawrence Bonassar used 3D photos of human ears to create ear molds. These molds were then filled with a gel containing bovine cartilage cells suspended in collagen, which held the shape of the ear while cells grew their extracellular matrix. Bonassar and his team have since gone on to 3D print intervertebral discs to treat major spinal complications. Researchers at Princeton have also 3D printed their own collagen ear, this time, with built-in electronic components for superhuman hearing.
7. Medical Equipment
Already, 3D printing is occurring in poverty-stricken areas of the world. Due to the ability to manufacture items that may be difficult or expensive to obtain by traditional means, groups like iLab//Haiti have taken to 3D printing umbilical chord clamps for local hospitals in Haiti. With 3D printing you can print medical equipment faster and more cost effective than ever, saving more lives around the world.
8. Cranium Replacement
3D printing skull replacements can save a lot of time and money. When you 3D print a skull replacement you can design it to be tailor made to the patients head.A team of Dutch surgeons at the University Medical Center in Utrecht replaced the entire top portion of a 22 year–old woman’s skull with a customized printed implant made from plastic. This story has been replayed in China, where a man with a crushed skull was given a tailor-made, 3D printed, titanium replacement, and in Slovakia, in which a different man with brain damage received a similar, 3D printed treatment.
9. Synthetic skin
James Yoo at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in the US has developed a printer that can print skin straight onto the wounds of burnt victims. With the ability to scan a wound, the printer can then fabricate the appropriate number of skin layers to fill the wound. Yoo’s research was able to successfully demonstrate the viability of a 10-cm piece of skin transplanted onto a pig and has since been funded by the US Army to use the technology to treat wounded soldiers.
Organovo recently announced the commercial launch of their bioprinted liver assays, 3D printed liver cells that able to function for more than 40 days. While, at the moment, the product is used for testing new pharmaceuticals, Organovo’s top executives and other industry experts suggest that within a decade we will be able to print solid organs such as liver, heart, and kidney. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide are waiting for an organ donor; imagine how such a technology could transform their lives.
3D printing is just one of the many revolutionary technologies currently being used in healthcare. With 3D printing doctors can save more lives, more efficiently, and faster, making our world a better place.