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3D Printing: Medical Applications

  • Synopsis: Last Updated: 2017-04-20 - Information and news on the latest developments in the health and medical field involving use of 3D printers

3D Printing

3D printing (Additive Manufacturing (AM)) is any of various processes used to make a three-dimensional object. In 3D printing, additive processes are used, in which successive layers of material are laid down under computer control. These objects can be of almost any shape or geometry, and are produced from a 3D model or other electronic data source. The medical applications of 3D bioprinting are numerous, and are currently the subject of intensive research. 3D printing has already been used to print patient specific implant and devices for medical use. For example, Clinicians recently used 3D printing to help treat a woman with a degenerative condition of the spinal column.

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The adoption of 3-D printing is happening fastest in the medical industry. The precise process of 3-D printers now give us the ability to reproduce vascular systems required to make organs viable. Researchers are already using the printers to print tiny strips of organ tissue. And while printing whole human organs for surgical transplants is still years away, the technology is rapidly developing.

In the future 3-D printers could someday produce much-needed human organs for transplants.

Presently more than 121,000 people in the United States are waiting for organ transplants, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. A leading bioengineering researcher, Dr. Stuart Williams of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute, predicted that a 3-D printer will be able to print an entire heart from a human's own cells within a decade.

At Wake Forest, teams built custom bio-printers faster than modified ink-jets and can print with many more cell types, including stem cells, muscle cells, and vascular cells. They also designed a printer to create both the synthetic scaffold and tissue in one session; they're now using it to produce intricate ears, noses, and bones. Other uses of 3D printing in the medical field include the printing of Prosthetics and Artificial Limbs for amputees and people with disabilities, custom hearing aids, uses in the dental field, and printing new skin as grafts for burn and injury patients, as well as custom and new medical devices.

Percentage use of rapid prototyping worldwide as of year 2000. Data based on: D. T. Pham, S. S. Dimov, Rapid manufacturing, Springer-Verlag, 2001, ISBN 1-85233-360-X, page 6
Percentage use of rapid prototyping worldwide as of year 2000. Data based on: D. T. Pham, S. S. Dimov, Rapid manufacturing, Springer-Verlag, 2001, ISBN 1-85233-360-X, page 6
3D printing technology in healthcare is an evolutionary market that will be very lucrative in the next 5 years.

3D printing technology is reshaping the healthcare market and healthcare professionals are keen to explore it due to lower costs and improved quality of patient care solutions. The 3D printing technology involves implants, surgeries, and prosthetic operations. In the future it might serve as an alternative for organ replacement too. Large pharmaceutical companies have also shown interest in this technology as it could substantially reduce the cost of research and development for introducing new drugs to the market.

The 3D printing technology market has been categorized on the basis of technology, applications and raw materials.

The technology has grown rapidly in developed markets like the US and now is in the early stages of development in emerging economies, especially countries, which have an active medical tourism market such as India, Vietnam, and Malaysia etc.

The key players in the 3D printing healthcare technology include Organovo, Ekso Bionics, Bio 3D Technology, Metamason, Envision TEC, and Rainbow Biosciences. The market is expected to have exponential growth in the next five years as the awareness about the advantages of 3D printing technology in healthcare increases.

Future 3D printing applications for the medical field will certainly emerge with the development of suitable additional materials for diagnostic and therapeutic use that meet control guidelines. However, the swiftly evolving technology may create new moral conundrums, and a research director at Gartner Inc. believes 3-D bioprinting is advancing so quickly that it will spark a major ethical debate by 2016.

Quick Facts: Medical 3D Printing

One major application area of bioprinting is in the tissue engineering field of regenerative medicine;

  • 3D printing techniques can be employed to construct nanoscale-size objects.
  • 3D printing has been used to print patient specific implant and device for medical use.
  • The Lawrence Bonassar Laboratory at Cornell University has been working on 3D bioprinting cartilaginous geometries.
  • The hearing aid and dental industries are expected to be the biggest area of future development using the custom 3D printing technology.
  • Commercially, Printer-inks, a UK company, and Organovo, a U.S. company, have worked together to develop human tissue through 3D printing.
  • In March 2014, surgeons in Swansea used 3D printed parts to rebuild the face of a motorcyclist who had been seriously injured in a road accident.
  • Researchers in the Jonathan Butcher Laboratory in the Cornell University College of Engineering have been developing methods to bio-print living aortic heart valves.
  • 3D bioprinting has seen much preliminary success in terms of generation of several different kinds of tissues. These include skin, bone, cartilage, trachea, and heart tissue.


Latest 3D Printing - Medical Publications
1 - Surgeons Practice Brain Surgery on 3D Printed Brain Models - University of Connecticut.
2 - 3D Printing Stem Cells - New Bio-ink Created - University of Bristol.
3 - 3D Bioprinting Ink Contains Human Cells - American Chemical Society.
4 - 3D Printed Braille Maps for Blind & Visually Impaired - rutgers.edu.
5 - 3D Printing Replacement Tissue Proven Feasible - Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

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