3D Printing Advances in the Medical Field: How 3D Printing is Changing the Face of Medicine

3D printing is known as the process of creating a three-dimensional object from a digital model. Multiple layers of material are deposited to create a three-dimensional object. 3D printing has been used in many different fields, such as manufacturing, architecture, and engineering.

While popularly used in various fields and industries, 3D printing has started to gain popularity in the medical field. It has allowed advancements in the way medical treatments are done. Today, there are four core areas where medical professionals are utilizing the technology: prosthetic and orthotic fabrication, surgical planning and simulation, customized implants, and tissue engineering.

What is 3D Printing?

3D Printing is also known by its original name, “Additive Manufacturing”. It comes in many forms, but effectively all types of 3D printing involve adding layers of a material to create a desired shape and form. This is opposed to other types of machining and manufacturing that often remove material to sculpt it into shape (such as CNC machining and milling), or processes that melt/form or stamp a material into shape.

Types of 3D Printing

The original and most common form of 3D printing is an SLA printing service, while others offer a menagerie of acronyms for a variety of different processes and materials, such as:

  • Stereolithography (SLA)
  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
  • Carbon DLS Printing
  • HP Metal Jet Fusion
  • and others…

Prosthetic and Orthotic Fabrication

Prosthetic and orthotic fabrication uses three-dimensional printing to create prostheses or orthoses. A prosthesis is an artificial body part that replaces a missing natural one. An orthosis is a device worn externally that supports, aligns, prevents, or corrects deformities or abnormalities of the bones and muscles.

There are many different types of prostheses and orthoses, each serving a unique function. For example, there are prosthetic legs for amputees, ankle braces for those with weak ankles, and neck collars to support the spine.

The use of three-dimensional printing in prosthetic and orthotic fabrication has revolutionized the way these devices are made. Traditionally, prostheses and orthoses were made by hand in a workshop. This process was slow and often resulted in devices that did not fit the individual properly. However, with the use of three-dimensional printing, prosthetic and orthotic devices can now be quickly and easily fabricated to fit the individual perfectly. This not only results in a more comfortable and functional device, but also reduces the amount of time needed for fittings.

Surgical Planning and Simulation

Surgical planning and simulation uses three-dimensional printing to create models of organs and tissues. These models are used by surgeons to plan surgeries and to practice procedures.

Surgeons often need to operate on difficult or delicate tissues, such as the brain or heart. The use of three-dimensional printing allows them to visualize these tissues in advance and plan the surgery accordingly. This can result in a more successful operation with less risk of damage to the tissue.

Three-dimensional printing can also be used to create models of tumors. This allows surgeons to plan the best way to remove the tumor and minimize damage to surrounding tissues.

Customized Implants

Customized implants are medical devices that are specifically designed for an individual patient. They are often used in cases where a standard implant is unavailable or does not properly fit the patient.

One example of a customized implant is a cranial prosthesis. A cranial prosthesis is an implant used to replace part of the skull. It is custom-made for each patient based on the size and shape of their skull. This ensures a perfect fit and reduces the risk of infection or other complications.

Tissue Engineering

Tissue engineering is the use of three-dimensional printing to create tissues and organs. This technology has the potential to revolutionize medicine by allowing us to grow replacement tissues and organs in a lab.

The Bottom Line

3D printing is revolutionizing the medical field. It has allowed us to make advancements in prosthetic and orthotic fabrication, surgical planning and simulation, customized implants, and tissue engineering. This technology has the potential to change the face of medicine and improve the quality of life for many people.