3D printing has been disrupting industries over the past few decades. For example, this technology has made significant inroads in the healthcare industry. It has allowed us to move towards more personalized medicine.

In fact, the innovations brought about by 3D printing has changed so many lives for the better. Below are some mind-boggling examples of what custom 3D printing has done for the field of medicine.

Implants 

All patients are unique. Implants that are customized to fit a patient’s anatomy can ensure a more comfortable experience. But it also costs a lot more to manufacture. Moreover, complex structures can be challenging to make.



With 3D printing, manufacturers can create intricate designs that will adapt to the patient’s bone structure. It also improves implant fit and decreases the duration of the surgery. The likelihood of the surgery’s success is higher and speeds up the patient’s recovery time. Some examples of 3D-printed implants include custom-fit hearing aids, hip replacements, and dental renovations (i.e. crowns).

3d printing implants

Image by Envisiontec

Surgical Tools

One-size-fits-all surgical tools are the norm. But studies have shown that customized surgical instruments are better all around. When surgical tools are tailor-made for a specific patient and/or procedure, it helps the surgeon perform their procedures better, which, in turn, has a positive impact on the patient.

Surgical procedures and techniques are always getting updated. This means that surgical tools will also require updating. Rapid prototyping of new designs for surgical instruments can be achieved by 3D printing. Moreover, this technology allows for on-demand manufacturing.

Hospitals don’t need to stock up on tools; they can just print them when needed. This not only lowers the cost, but it also reduces the amount of waste.



Anatomical Models

Complicated surgeries are made easier if doctors can do rehearsals before the actual procedure. 3D-printed models of a patient’s anatomy make that possible. One example of this happened in Japan, where a 3D-printed model of a liver was used to plan and process a liver transplant that will help ensure minimal tissue loss. 

The benefits of using anatomical models are enormous. Aside from allowing surgeons to practice their skills, anatomical models help surgeons complete their procedures more quickly. They help increase the chances of the procedure’s success. Plus, they help reduce the trauma that the patient experiences.

Prosthetics

Prosthetics can be expensive, even if they’re mass-produced. Custom-made ones are even more costly, even if they fit better and are more comfortable. Moreover, prosthetics can take weeks, even months before patients can receive them. 3D printing does away with all of these issues. 

medical prosthetics

Image from Unsplash, by Tom Claes

This technology can not only produce customized prosthetics, but it can also be so much faster. Also, printing prosthetics don’t cost a lot. Because of 3D printing, amputees who have limited budgets can now afford prosthetics. It also allows parents to be able to afford different-sized prosthetics for their child without breaking the bank.



Personalized Pharmaceuticals

We all know that pharmaceutical companies produce one-size-fits-all dosages of the drugs they release. But not all patients are the same. We react differently to medicines due to a variety of factors, including our genetic profile. However, 3D printing has made it possible for patients to receive tailor-made dosages of their medications.

Pharmaceutical companies typically mill and mix the ingredients of a drug before moulding it into an oral tablet. Creating customized dosages can be costly. That is until 3D printing came to be.

Aside from tailor-made dosages, another innovation born out of 3D printing is the polypill. Drinking multiple pills a day for different conditions can be challenging to remember.

The polypill contains other medications that will be released into your body at certain times during the day. A polypill is made possible because 3D printing can not only create tailor-made dosages, it can also print outer shells of different materials that will dissolve at different rates. 



While the polypill and customized dosages sound like science fiction, some patients are actually benefiting from these innovations already. These patients are receiving polypills containing medications for their hypertension, diabetes 2, and other heart conditions. 

Transplants

3D printing techniques are not just used to create prosthetics, customized drugs, and surgical tools. This technology has been adapted into bioprinting. Bioprinting is the process of combining cells, growth factors, and biomaterials to create an organ-like structure.

This is believed to be the future of organ transplants. Patients who end up waiting years for a transplant might no longer need to. 

3d printed transplant

Image by NBC

3D printing is also a cheaper alternative. And before you think this is something that’s still a concept, there’s already proof. The first printed organs were created in the early 2000s. By 2019, a team of scientists in Israel was able to print a rabbit-sized heart made of human tissue. Pretty soon, doctors will be transplanting organs by the dozen.