medical 3-D printing

Contributor(s): Laura Aberle

Medical 3-D printing is an emerging area of technology that explores how 3-D printing can be used to replace or support an existing biological structure.

Medical practitioners have now begun using 3-D printers to produce medical devices. Examples of medical 3-D printing successes include the creation of plastic tracheal splints and limb prosthetics as well as titanium replacements for jaws and hips.  

3-D printing represents a shift in the medical manufacturing industry because the relatively low cost and small size of printers promises to make the technology widely accessible, allowing doctors and researchers to create personalized devices for patients. A physician whose patient experiences pain or has developed an infection from a non-customized prosthetic can now use imaging technology and a 3-D printer to customize a new prosthetic that conforms to the specific shape and movements of the patient's body.

A related area of 3-D printing called bioprinting, involves printing human tissue and organs by layering living cells instead of plastic or titanium. While bioprinting remains in the experimental phase, the ability to print human tissue could have a huge impact on such things as pharmaceutical research, transplants, surgical operations and reconstructive surgery.

This was last updated in March 2015

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How do you think 3-D printing will change the medical manufacturing industry, and medicine in general?
As we have already seen, the use of 3D printers in the medical field has changed the way many procedures and treatments are done. I see 3D printers truly affecting the medical realm of prosthetics, organ transplants and sports medicine. I see one are that will benefit greatly is knee surgery, hip replacements and other joint and connective tissue points on the body. 3D printers allow for custom knee, hip and joint parts.
World is moving toward 3D printing. Only the medical field was spared from its magic. Now 3D printing is showering its fragrances in medical field too by presently printing prosthetics for human tissues and manufacturing medical tools and instruments.From metals to plastics to glass to jewelry, everywhere 3D printing is making us feel miraculous.
We have already seen that 3D printing is showering its fragrances from metal to plastics to glass domain. All these are related to medical field. Now we can built prosthetics for human tissues which could ultimately lead to decrease in  number of accidental paralysis.
How...? Almost every way imaginable, from organs to prosthetics, from teeth to drugs. "You need an antibiotic; let me print it for you...." Think of modeling from MRIs to patients, explaining problems and solutions like never before. (My dentist actually prints my caps and crowns while I wait, but the process is beyond klutzy.) 

Now, of course, this is not a While-U-Wait job for your GP (until we can print a Star Trek Tricorder). All that tinkering will take a tech who understands the process. What a great adjunct to the standard medical office.
I saw a news article where someone 3d printed a prosthetic arm for someone at the cost of a few hundred dollars. To buy one would have cost the family thousands. I can't wait to see how far this will come. Now you can even get a personal 3d printer that works off your smart phone for just over 100.00.. You can print small figurines and things like that. It's limited by your screen size.
Welcome to the future. "Please wait a bit while we print your new arm" seems to be where we're heading, much the same way my dentist now prints caps and crowns at a small fraction of the previous cost. Lots of catching up still to be done, but this is definitely the right path. Presumably I'll be able to print my new glasses one day (not just the frames, the whole thing, lenses and all) and a replacement fender for my old beater, too.
Yes, there is a future. The 3D printed medical model helps the surgeons to understand better anatomy and diseases the patients. They can practice on the model before surgery this will reduce risk while operating, reduce the time and reduce anesthesia, then automatically surgery cost will go down.and surgeons can explain better to the patients about his abnormality, because they cannot understand CT, MRI scan. I think this will change in medical and healthcare. I'm working with the company where we segment CT MRI data and convert into 3D virtual model and then print. We have done many cases for surgeons.