#Asia From customised implants to customised drugs, how 3D printing can revolutionise the healthcare industry


In due time, 3D printing will end up changing the way we receive healthcare and every other part of our lives

3D printing

The ever-changing landscape of technology has brought with it a series of developments. One of those developments is in the field of 3D printing. In fact, this technology has evolved to the extent of reconstructing the face of the healthcare industry. 3D printing is fulfilling the needs of the medical industry to provide customised and accurate care to every patient. The best part is that it’s doing it without the use of much resource, resulting in affordable healthcare solutions.

In due time, 3D printing will end up changing the way we receive healthcare and every other part of our lives. Take a look at some of the innovative ways in which this technology is being implemented in the field of medicine:

Affordable prosthetics

While prosthetics are a vital need for patients, they’re often expensive and unaesthetic. Their cost can even go as high as US$100,000. The process of creating traditional prosthetics also takes time. In addition, the most inconvenient thing about them is that the original moulds may get destroyed if any modification is made to the prosthetic. With 3D printing technology, experts can create well-fitting prosthetics customised according to each patient for about US$1000.

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Image Credit: StarWarsRey

There are a number of organisations and projects that are dedicated to providing people with 3D-printed prosthetic limbs. Projects like Limbitless Solutions, which is based out of the University of Central Florida, provides kids with 3D-printed superhero prosthetics. The cost for materials may be just around US$350 for each prosthetic.

Accurate medical models 

3D printing technology also helps researchers in creating medical models to better understand certain diseases. It’s contributing to anti-cancer drug research, as a group of researchers in the US and China make use of 3D-printed models of cancerous tumours. This helps them gain a better understanding of the development, growth, and spreading of tumours.

Doctors can create 3D-printed models specific to each patient based on MRI and CT scans. This means that the technology is evolving from medical research to practical application, as it enables doctors to better prepare for surgeries. This improves the accuracy of the surgical procedure while reducing the time needed to complete the surgery.

Customised implants 

Implants are done to take the place of a functional organ or part inside the body. However, the body needs to accept this implant, so that it can do its work of serving an identical purpose as the original part. The technology required to successfully create an implant can be expensive and requires significant investment. 3D printing technology can help in adapting the medical material to improve the shape of the implant and at a lower cost.Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 13.47.20

In late 2015, doctors in Australia successfully managed to create a customised rib implant using 3D printing. The patient had been diagnosed with chest wall sarcoma, resulting in the need to remove part of his ribcage and his sternum. The challenge for the doctors was to find an implant that perfectly fits the shape of his chest cavity. So they made use of metal 3D printing to create a printed titanium sternum and ribs from the patient’s scan.

There are significant improvements in creating organ implants from 3D printing as well. Organovo is continuing to work on developing bio-printed liver tissues, which will pave the way to developing fully implantable organs using the technology. We should be expecting to see this goal fulfilled in about a decade. Imagine how much easier it would be for people needing organ implants who have to wait for months and sometimes even years to get an implant.

Cheaper, accessible medical equipment 

The expertise of doctors in providing care to their patients can be greatly affected if they don’t have the right equipment to carry out medical procedures. Medical equipment can be expensive, meaning that people in poverty-stricken areas have to compromise on the quality of care they receive. 3D printers are changing this gradually by making medical tools more affordable and accessible at even the most remote locations.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 13.48.23Source: Wikimedia Commons

An excellent example of this is how the Field Ready group provides local Haitian hospitals with 3D-printed umbilical cord clamps. Additionally, students at the University of British Columbia’s bioengineering department came up with an effective surgical smoke evacuator using 3D printing technology. Even other medical equipment like hemostats, forceps, and scalpel handles can be printed using 3D printers.

Customised drugs 

Just last year, the FDA gave its approval to Spritam, a 3D-printed drug that is more porous and is easier to swallow. This has opened up a whole new world for more 3D-printed drugs within the next ten years. This means medication customized according the condition of each patient. For instance, there are patients with stomach cancer who have had their stomach removed. 3D-printing could help in the development of a drug that can be absorbed from the intestine instead of from the stomach.

Synthetic skin 

Recovery can be tough for burn victims especially when there’s excessive damage to their skin. The pain and discomfort from the wound may be one thing; the thought of having to live with severe deformation may leave many burn victims depressed. The traditional method of treating deep burns is by covering the wound with healthy skin from other part of the body. However, there may not always be enough healthy skin in cases where patients suffered from extensive burns.

Research at the Institute of Regenerative Medicine could change all this and bring new hope to patients who underwent severe burns. Using 3D printing technology, doctors could offer new possibilities in providing care to these patients. They have built a 3D printer that can print skin cells onto the burnt wounds. This printer makes use of actual skin cells as an “ink”.

The technology uses a scanner to determine the size and depth of the wound. It then covers the wound with layers of the correct type of skin cells. With only a patch of skin that’s 10% the size of the wound, this technology can grow enough skin cells to print healthy skin.

Appliances in dentistry 

3D printing is also affecting the dentistry industry, enabling dentists to use 3D scans for printing plaster models, clear aligners, and retainers. They can even use 3D printing technology to create orthodontic appliances and positioning trays. The best part is that they can do all this within a short period of time, making them work more efficiently.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 13.48.53Source: Wikipedia

In addition to all this, 3D printing technology is aiding the medical industry with producing bone and cartilage. Soon, we should be able to taste the reality of 3D-printed organs that will make our lives much easier. While there may be many challenges as for now, we’re slowly seeing progress in how 3D printing technology is being implemented in the healthcare industry.

What are your thoughts on 3D printing? Feel free to share it in the below comments.

The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your article here.

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