Imagine a world where you can create human cells, tissues, and organs with utmost accuracy and precision at a blink of an eye. Imagine the number of lives that could be saved if this were to become a reality. Such future is the promise of 3D printing for leading physicians in the healthcare industry all over the world.
3D printing dates back to the late 1980’s. At that time, they were called rapid prototyping (RP) technologies and were used solely for creating various prototypes in the product development industry. Through the years, 3D printing has successfully infiltrated several other industries and has widely gained a variety of uses in the process. Today, this technology is not only used to build prototypes, but to build end products themselves with much more finesse than traditional methods.
In the healthcare industry, the 3D printing technology is still at its infancy. For many years, the only application of 3D printing in the medical field was in creating dental implants. It was only in the past 5 years that the technology ventured out into other aspects of the medical field, such as in orthopedics. The patient-centered approach is definitely amplified in creating prosthetics with the aid of 3D printers since the products are made out of the exact specifications of the patient. As Michael Davidson, MPH CPO – Clinical Manager of the Department of Orthotics and Prosthetics at Loma Linda University Medical Center discussed in a Forbes article, “it’s not just having the measurements exactly right, it’s having it all in the right place. It helps the wholeness of the person who is recovering – regarding your identity and regarding yourself.”
Aside from orthopedics, 3D printing is now being looked at as the key in revolutionizing the surgical field. Several case studies that document the use of 3D medical models – crafted based on results of medical imaging studies – in surgery have already been published with positive results. The use of these 3D models, such as the cardiac model used to create an implant that patched up the heart of 2-year-old Mina Khan in UK, allow surgeons to carefully study the exact model of a patient’s defective tissue and organ, so that when they actually start the surgery, they can do so successfully and with great accuracy and efficiency.