Medicine and 3D printing – possibilities and limits
One of the main applications of 3D printing is medicine. Many scientists are researching ways to use additive research in patient care. There have been some interesting developments here in recent years and the next few years are also very promising.
In the meantime, 3D printed models of organs, among other things, are being produced, which are then used for surgery planning. For example, using data obtained by magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography, it is possible to print individual body regions (including bones), the heart and other organs with their patient-specific anatomical characteristics, as well as the associated blood vessels. With this model, it is then possible to plan and practice the operation in advance.
What organs, bones and medical devices can be made with the 3D printer?
There are numerous tools in the medical sector that are usually manufactured efficiently and cost-effectively using 3D printing technology. The first thing that comes to most people's minds is certainly dentures, but we will discuss this in detail in another article. Here we want to turn to the other points.
Additive manufacturing is used in the medical sector, among other things, for the production of
- Prostheses and implants,
- Medical and especially surgical aids,
- detailed models of organs as well as body regions and
- tablets made individually for the patient, the composition of which has been prescribed by the doctor, especially in the case of previously rather unusual dosage
Prostheses and implants from the 3D printer
3D printing is increasingly being used in the manufacture of prostheses and implants. For example, a material has been developed for bone implant pressure that converts to or fuses with bone mass during the healing phase and subsequent months. To improve the healing of deep wounds, researchers at the University of Toronto developed a bioprinter. South Korean researchers, in turn, succeeded in printing an artificial eye that almost completely resembles the original.
3D printing is also increasingly used for the production of individual orthoses. Residents of developing countries also benefit significantly from this technology, as hardly any other medical equipment is needed besides the 3D printer and the filament itself (provided no further medical measures need to be taken). Some companies and research institutes have also specialized in the additive manufacturing of forearm and hand prostheses and are driving development forward here as well.
3D printed medical instruments
A Canadian scientist succeeded in producing a functional stethoscope using the 3D printing process. According to him, the cost of materials should be the equivalent of 3 euros. This is certainly one of the reasons why people in developing countries in particular, where medical care is not available to the extent necessary, benefit from locally printed stethoscopes.
Furthermore, there has also been a move to manufacture surgical instruments through additive manufacturing. For the planning and training of operations, organs or body parts replicating the original are used, which come from the 3D printer.
In the meantime, patients have also been implanted with vertebral bodies made of titanium, which were manufactured additively. Some people also suffer from ear deformities or malformations that can be corrected with additive manufacturing. Here it is possible to produce ear implants, usually using the healthy second ear as a template, which is then transposed laterally.
Production of tablets
3D printing has been used for the production of tablets for some time. It is thus possible for the doctor to specify an individual dosage of an active ingredient for the individual patient and the tablets are then produced. This also has the advantage that the tablets do not have to be stored in stock and changes to the dosage can be made more quickly.
More medical objects from the 3D printer
Any number of apps can be installed on smartphones, some of which also have a medical background. A team of researchers at the University of California San Diego developed a smartphone case that uses a sensor and an app to determine blood glucose levels. Instead of a conventional test strip, small pellets are used here, on which a few drops of blood are placed. The values are shown on the smartphone display, and at the same time transmission to a care provider, a doctor's office, a clinic and also storage in a cloud can take place. It is also conceivable that this system will be used later for further measurements. The smartphone case was made with a 3D printer.
Athletes in particular are prone to facial injuries, including fractures of the nasal bone. In order to stabilize these fractures, but at the same time allow them to return to sports at an early age, scientists have developed a 3D printed facemask with data customized for each individual patient.
In some countries, bioprinting and other 3D printing processes are already being used to produce skin areas. These skin flaps can then be used to close wounds. China in particular is very advanced in these processes.
Promising things can also be expected from 3D printing in healthcare in the future. It may then also be within the realm of feasibility to print functional organs and thus require a smaller number of donor organs. At the moment, this is still a dream of the future, but who would have thought 30 years ago, for example, that it would be possible to print three-dimensionally at home or in a company? Probably rather few of us all.