3D printing is the most talked about new development in printing technology at the moment, particularly with Amazon's recent opening of a dedicated 3D printing page on their website. While the discussion is focused on the consumer aspect of this technology, we wanted to focus on the more high tech applications, including how these technological developments show promise for the medical field. Though 3D printing is still relatively expensive, rapidly decreasing costs and the development of new types of materials used in printing prosthetics make this technology viable for many larger research-focused hospitals. With the future looking bright for medical applications of 3D printing, there is great hope that medical costs and recovery times can be reduced.
Types of Medical Applications
Though the ways in which 3D printing can now be applied to medicine are diverse, Phys.org reported on the two major types: tissues and organs, and prothestic devices. In the former process, this technology can be used to create water-based aritificial skin to aid in wound recovery, particularly after burns. Though the organ technology is still very much in development, scientists have found a way to print cells that mimic living tissue cells. The hope is that organ donor waiting lists can be reduced.
In the latter process, 3D laser scanners can get a digital imprint of lost limbs, which enables doctors to fully customize artificial limbs. This cuts down on the time spent creating the artificial limb and ensures better patient outcomes, or at least less time spent in physical therapy. Dental applications include scanning an individual's mouth to create customized dental appliances.
Steps to Get Widespread Use
While medical advances with 3D technology have been made, particularly within the last two years, several roadblocks prevent 3D printing from becoming widespread. The cost of developing these printing technologies is high, especially in using bioprinting for creating human organs. With federal funding cuts, some of these research programs have been defunded or continue to be underfunded. As a result, research may not be advancing as quickly as might otherwise be possible.
At the same time, like any new medical technology, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must approve the use of bioprinting through clinical trials, as The Atlantic reports. Though there is no timeline on when these trials might start, it could be several years until they are completed and mass-production can start. Once common organ structures can be developed, it will be more time efficient and cost effective to customize the cells so that each individual's body will not reject the new organ.
Like all aspects of 3D printing technology, medical applications are still a long way from being fully realized on a nationwide level. Still, with the new developments from research scientists and some small-scale applications on individual patients, there is a lot of promise that printing can provide previously unavailable medical outcomes that benefit doctors and patients alike. Feel free to share your thoughts below on these new technologies.