Disrupted Healthcare – 3D Printing Revolution

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, has been around since the 1980s, but it is only in recent years that advances in the technology mean it is playing a bigger role in healthcare. 3D printing works by building objects up layer by layer, creating more accurate shapes than can be made using traditional techniques such as cast moulds or carving them out from chunks of material.

In the medical world, 3D printing human tissues and organs (also called 3D bioprinting) is helping scientists to test new drugs more accurately, instead of using animals, thereby giving researchers more accurate results in how the drugs are working.

Healthcare’s Bio-Printing Revolution

In recent years, breakthroughs in 3D printing human tissues and organs have wowed scientists worldwide, making the idea of printing human organs for transplantation in the near future extremely possible.

From complex reconstructive facial surgery to dentures and hip implants, surgeons across the world are using 3D printing to improve treatments as well as save time and money for the patient and/or payer.

Hospitals have long used it to make plastic anatomical models that mean surgery can be planned and practised before operations. Studies have shown this can reduce operating time for certain procedures by as much as 30 per cent.

A growing number of surgeons and dentists are working with industrial designers and engineering companies to use the technology to produce custom-made 3D printed implants for complex orthopaedic and facial reconstruction procedures.

In March this year, surgeons at a hospital in Swansea (UK) used 3D printed implants, to reconstruct the face of a man who had been in a serious motorbike accident. Last year, a London dental company Dawood and Tanner used 3D printing technology to make a facial prosthesis for a man who lost half his face because of cancer.

3D printing also brings the advantage of shortening operations, an important factor for hospitals around the world where operating theatre time costs are high. Shorter surgery times can also help reduce infection risk and speed up recovery.

Bioprinting may still be considered in its infancy, but the possibilities of what it can do in the medical field are limitless. Today, experts in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine worldwide are working to reproduce almost every human tissue.

The impact on the medical device industry, which supplies hospitals and surgeons with the implants used today, will likely be disruptive. It is no longer far fetched to imagine that a surgeon will measure the precise implant requirements specific to you and have the implant 3D printed in the hospital ready for surgery the day after your consultation with him. By 3D printing a custom implant, the patient is less likely to need another operation.

Julien de Salaberry

3d printing human ear
3d printing human ear
3d printing skull
Operating Room with bioprinted body parts
Operating Room with bioprinted body parts