Printing Miracles: 3D Printing’s Impact on Medicine

by Modis on November 20, 2017

3d printing in healthcare3D printing is changing the world of design and production across many vital industries, and its tremendous growth in recent years is spurring further innovation in areas that impact our health and lives. While everything from crafting custom automotive parts to edible 3D printed food is made possible through this fascinating technology, developments in the medical field represent some of the most unique and inspiring areas of growth on this front.

As cutting-edge 3D printing technology and its many applications evolve, the possibilities it will unlock for saving lives—and improving the quality of life for patients with ongoing health issues—seems nothing short of miraculous. Here’s a look at how 3D printing is affecting modern medicine today and where it’s headed in the not-so-distant future.

Affordable Surgical Tools On Demand

With access to high-quality healthcare, supplies, and surgical instruments being limited in many developing countries, 3D printing could provide surgeons in remote countries the tools they need to operate on patients at a significantly lower cost.

Researchers have successfully 3D printed basic medical tools using plastic filament at a small fraction of the cost it takes to manufacture them, and these instruments even come sterilized right out of the printer. Printed at a scaled volume, these vital surgical tools become much cheaper to produce than their manufactured counterparts, offering a cost-effective solution for regions where resources are limited.

Other innovators have explored this idea further, crafting higher-end 3D printed metal items designed for specific medical applications functions ranging from dental tools to specialized medical instruments for ACL surgery.

The additive nature of the 3D printing process creates less waste than traditional manufacturing, allowing efficient use of time, energy, and resources to lower the cost of important medical implements.

Rebuilding the Body with 3D Printing

Creating medical tools is only the tip of the iceburg when it comes to applying this unique technology to modern healthcare. 3D printing is also proving an effective avenue for empowering amputees and others with physical disabilities to regain function and ability in everyday life.

Traditionally manufactured prosthetics are very expensive, but 3D printing is enabling anyone to design and print their own functioning limbs customized to their specific fit and personal needs. There’s a growing community dedicated to finding ways to improve the design and functionality for 3D printed prosthetics, and as more 3D printable materials become accessible, the durability and capability of these limbs will continue to improve.

3D Printing Living Tissue and Organ Transplants

The most intriguing application of 3D printing pushes medicine deeper into the realm of science fiction. We’re poised to enter a bold new future where, inevitably, 3D printing will allow us to replace vital organs. It’s only a matter of time, and the breakthroughs of today are already showing great promise for the medicine of tomorrow.

Skin grafting, for example, requires harvesting a larger amount of tissue from elsewhere on the body, but 3D printing living skin cells directly onto a patient could provide a much safer, less invasive alternative. 3D printing tech applications of this sort are currently being developed and tested.

The capabilities for printing living tissue are already here, however, as medical researchers have successfully printed living skin and muscle tissue that, after being implanted in animals, has grown new blood vessels and taken hold as functioning transplants. It’s an incredible medical advancement, and one that experts agree will eventually allow us to print and transplant entire human organs into patients.

Time will tell exactly how far 3D printing will evolve in the years to come, but if our current level of progress is any indication, there’s undoubtedly an exciting future ahead for 3D printing in medicine.

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