3D printing is one of the common additive manufacturing technologies. It creates a three-dimensional object through building successive layers of given raw materials. Each of the additional layers is attached on the previous one until the object is completed. The objects are printed from a 3D file such as CAD (Computer-aided design) and Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI).
3D printing has made it easy for manufacturers to create devices that can be matched with the anatomy of the patient or devices that have complex structures like those of the human muscular system. Here are some new capabilities that 3D printing has brought to the medical arena.
Printing of tissues with blood vessels
Harvard University researchers have made progress in bioprinting of muscular cells with blood vessels in them as they attempt to create muscular prints of blood supply systems. The bioprinter creates tissue out of skin cells that are interwoven with vascular structures that can work as blood vessels.
Cheap prosthetic parts
The creation of traditional prosthetics is not only time consuming, but it is also expensive. In case there are modifications that are required on the original moulds, the engineers have to start the whole project new thereby destroying the original moulds.
However, with 3D printing, it is possible to create quick and customizable cheap prosthetics for those who do not have limbs or had them amputated for one reason or the other. This is particularly helpful to people in developing countries or countries devastated by war.
Sensors tailor-made for specific uses
Researchers based at Washington University are using scans of animal hearts to create models for which they create sensors to perfect the functioning of the heart. The electronic sensors are then attached to the human heart to help detect a number of things including temperature, heart strain, blocked vessels, oxygenation, and acidic conditions.
Printing of medical models
Medical models are a vital part of medical research and discovery of medicine to treat various conditions. 3D printing has enabled medical researchers from around the world to visualize the working of different parts of the body. Moreover, 3D models have become a tool for preparing surgeons for delicate surgeries as they can visualize every part of the organ that is to be operated on. This lowers surgery times and reduces mistakes on the operation table. In turn, the patients get a higher chance of survival and healing from diseases.
Printing of bones
Researchers have modified a 3D printer to bind chemicals to powder ceramic material. This has enabled them to come up with a material that promotes the growth of bones of any shape in a scaffold. The next step that the researchers are working on is the ability for the scaffold to be dissolved by the natural bone as it grows and stabilizes.
Researchers have had success in creating sheets of materials that are similar to heart valves. The materials even beat like the natural heart. The valve is made of smooth muscle cells, alginate and valve interstitial cells. The bioprinted valve is being tested on sheep and is expected to help people with heart conditions.
Printing of medical equipment
3D printing is making it possible for medical facilities in remote, poverty-stricken areas to produce medical items for basic surgeries and assistance. These include umbilical cord clamps, syringes, scalpels and so forth.
Surgeons in Denmark have succeeded in replacing the entire top of a 22-year woman’s skull by a plastic implant printed using a 3D printer. A similar feat has been achieved in China where a man who had crushed his skull had it replaced with titanium material. This is expected to increase the success of cranium replacements and increase the chances of survival of patients.
Creation of synthetic skin
James Yoo from Wake Forest School of Medicine has been able to come up with a 3D printer capable of printing skin on the wounds of burn victims. The printer scans the wound and then fabricates an appropriate number of layers needed to fill the wound. The technology is also expected to be used to treat wounded soldiers and people with serious skin conditions.