Healthcare & Medical
There is a vast range of healthcare and medical applications for 3D printing – from surgical guides, orthopaedic implants and prosthetics to bio-printing of live tissue using cells and growth factors combined to create artificial structures for testing and even organ replacement. The ability to create fully custom, bespoke products lends itself particularly well to the medical industry as individual patients can have a 1 OFF solution made cost effectively to fit their own specific requirements. Having parts that are specifically designed for their anatomy increases patient comfort and improves treatment outcomes.
A Selection of 3D printing applications in Healthcare and Medical
Surgical Learning Tools
Historically, clinical training has made use of animal skeletons, human cadavers, mannequins and crude models to provide hands-on experience of surgery situations. These existing options have drawbacks including inconsistencies with real human anatomy, cost of logistics and storage, inaccurate representation of tissue characteristics and limited supply. 3D printed models created using actual scan data of individual patients allow physicians to learn and understand specific patient anatomy with minimal invasion. These models can also be used to explain upcoming surgery to patients and as a communication tool between members of the clinical team.
Like the jigs and fixtures used in engineering and manufacturing environments, surgical guides and drill jigs can be produced to assist in surgery. Traditionally these guides would be made from generic templates in a variety of sizes and modified to suit an individual patient. The implementation of 3D printing allows physicians to create entirely bespoke guides and jigs that precisely match the patient’s anatomy. This increases the accuracy of drills and other instruments which are used in surgery, improving outcomes and making the surgeon’s job easier. These guides and tools can be made from bio-compatible materials that are safe for mucosal membrane contact for up to 24 hours.
The ability to create mesh and lattice structures in biocompatible materials such as Titanium has resulted in additive manufacturing implants becoming one of the fastest growing uses of 3D printing in the medical industry. These previously impossible to create structures have internal pores which allow for bone regrowth in and around the implant itself which results in a much higher strength solution than with attachment pins or screws. The implant’s size and shape can be designed to exactly fit the patient’s requirements rather than relying on standardised sizing.
Additive manufacturing has changed the way that prosthetics are designed and produced for those in need. Organisations such as the *e-NABLE Community* who are comprised of individuals around the world have created designs and resources that allow anyone with a 3D printer to make their own 3D printed limb prosthetics. The designs can be easily scaled or altered to perfectly match the size of the user and the low cost of production means that children who wouldn’t have been able to access a prosthetic until they had stopped growing, can re-scale and re-print as they get older. As additive manufacturing moves into the mainstream, these low cost prosthetics are becoming more commonplace and helping more and more people in both developed, and developing countries.