3D printing is the latest in the line of cutting edge technologies that are set to transform the way we make products. 3D printing consists of making a physical object from a 3-dimensional digital mode, coating it with successive thin layers of the desired material. 3D printing is widely used in processes like automotive design, model building and product photo typing. However, its use in the field of medicine was limited. Now, the use of 3-D printing in medicine is increasing and it applications are being exhaustively researched.
3d printing is being used in medical field for the following purposes:
1. Hearing aids
3D printers are mostly used to make hearing aids. According to reports, 10,000,000 hearing aids are in circulation all over the world1. Hearing aids that are 3D printed fits the wearer’s ear perfectly and make for a comfortable fit.
2. Dental laboratories
The dental industry has adopted 3D printing for increased precision in making medical devices. A patient’s mouth scan is analysed using dental software and an individualised solution is prepared for each patient. This data is fed into the 3D printer to build the necessary components of implants. Thus, it is possible to make implants which are accurately shaped. Earlier making crowns and dental implants would take 2 weeks, but today with 3D printing, they can be made ready while the patient reads magazines in the dentist’s waiting room.
3. Prosthetic limbs
3D printing has been a boon in the manufacturing of prosthetic limbs. Now manufacturers can make accurately fitting sockets which have increased the quality of life of people using the prosthetic limbs, reducing discomfort and subsequent visits to orthopaedic surgeons.
4. Joint replacement
3D printing has already been shown to be useful in case of joint replacements. A commonly replaced joint, for e.g. knee joint, has 5-6 types of knees which doctors use. Each requires the bone to be cut differently. Now, with bio printing, the surgeons can use knees beyond those 6 types as well. So an accurate custom knee can be provided to the patient. Now cartilages, strong and flexible knee joint menisci too can be printed using nylon.
A new offshoot of 3D-printing in healthcare is called as Bio printing. Bio printing is the process of generation of a 3D structure from human cells and an encapsulation material2. This method deposits ‘bio ink’ droplets of living Cells3 into a substrate as per digital instruction to produce human organs. Multiple print heads have been used to produce different cell types for e.g. organ specific blood cells. 3D bio printing has already been used for transplantation of several tissues including multiple layered skin, bone, vascular grafts, tracheal splints, heart tissue etc. Scientists have made meat suitable for eating using 3 D printing. However, making organs and tissues is a much more complex process.
Scientists are in the pursuit of growing liver, kidney, heart tissues, however, it is a complex procedure. Printed liver tissue has been made in petri dishes and large models have been printed for surgeons to practice techniques. Doctors at the University of Michigan published a case study in the New England Journal of Medicine reporting the use of a 3D printer; CT images of a patient’s airway were taken. This enabled them to print an exact model of the tracheal airway made of bioresorbable splint material which was successfully implanted in a baby suffering from tracheomalacia. The baby recovered fully and resorption of the splint required 3 more years. As 3D printing becomes more successful, more organs could be transplanted. Thus, the complications of finding a donor, organ rejection, may be nullified and patients can lead a quality life.
The benefits of medical printing like personalisation of medical products and cost effectiveness are much required and awaited by doctors and patients alike world over, and it looks like 3D printing will be at the forefront of it all.
Contributed by Dr. Rachita Narsaria, MD
1-Forbes.3D printing revolutionizes the hearing aid buisness.
3-C.Lee Ventola.MS Medical applications for 3D printing:Current and projected uses.PT.2014 Oct,39(10)