3D Printing: Revolutionizing Healthcare

Four Areas of Healthcare Promise

3D printing offers more and more promise in the healthcare field. While printing whole complex organs for transplants may still be in the far future, 3D printing is helping to save and improve lives in many other ways. 3D printing has figured prominently in four healthcare areas – in personalized prosthetics, in bioprinting and tissue engineering, in 3D-printed skin for burn victims, and in pharmacology.

While mass-manufactured traditional prosthesis are helpful, they are not as good as 3D-printed prosthetics that are custom-tailored for the individual user. By digitally capturing a patient’s unique measurements, a custom-fit suit can create a beautiful, lightweight design that fits the patient’s body or body part concerned. This same technology is now being harnessed to create conformal ventilated scoliosis braces, supports for amputees and more.

Medical Technology

Medical technology is now harnessing this 3D printing technology and building tiny organs, or “organoids” with stem cells as the production material. These organoids with their biomaterial will be able to grow inside the body and take over when an organic organ, such as a kidney or liver, fails. This technology started with simpler tissue-engineered structures such as skin, blood vessels, cartilage, bone, and the bladder, along with parts of more complex organs, such as heart valves, have made considerable progress.

Prototypes

3D bioprinter prototypes can produce human skin, especially for the use of burn victims. With a biological ink that contains both human plasma as well as material extracts taken from skin biopsies, about 100 square centimeters of human skin can be printed in the span of about half an hour. The possibilities for this technology, and the life-changing implications for burn victims, are endless.

To hugely simplify the daily life for patients with multiple ailments taking multiple medications, a 3D-printed pill, unlike a traditionally manufactured capsule, can contain multiple drugs at once, each with different release times. This so-called “polypill” concept has already been tested for patients with diabetes and is showing great promise.

3D printing technology and its vast promises in the fields of treatments, organs and devices, stand to revolutionize the medical field. With precision, speed and a major slash in cost, healthcare will never be the same again.