3D Printing: Making a Splash in the Medical Field

Posted on April 5, 2013 by

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 “They may have specific cell lines, disease areas of interests and they want a proprietary model for them … we can make it.”

If you were told that very soon doctors could print human body parts and effectively implement them inside of patients, you would probably be thinking that person is out of their mind. However, what formerly was seen as something only out of some futuristic science fiction film is now a reality in the medical field. You heard that correctly: 3D technology is now capable of printing materials to function as body parts. From what started out as experiments are now practical, functional body parts that patients are literally wearing. The medical industry is just one of the many businesses that are being transformed through the growing advances of 3D printing and has great potential to create a lasting impression on how medical companies approach patients in the future

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An experimental 3D printed heart

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Fully functional 3D hearts could be seen in the near future in humans

3D printers are reshaping medicine- from what started out with prosthetic limbs and hearing aids is turning into something a little more complex: human tissue. New technology has the capabilities to artificially create structures to mimic the functions of tissue and transmit electric currents from one side of the body’s network to the other. In other words, it can form cells that were previously missing or damaged from cancer. This 3D structure of cells forms layer by layer to eventually form human tissue.

While organ printing may be the hope for the medical future, the present is home to a wide array of successes within the realm of body part printing. Skin printers that print cells directly on the wound to help it heal quicker have materialized within the last few months alongside printed kidney cells. Experiments also include printed knee cartilages, heart valves, and bone implants. It seems as if we are only seeing the tip of the icebergwhen it comes to the capabilities of 3D printing within the medical field.

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Eric Moger with his newly constructed 3D-printed face

A great example of the recent innovative 3D printing at work with patients is the breakthrough with Eric Moger. The British man lost a portion of his face due to a tumor and had 3D printing work done to create the missing pieces of his face. It matches the skin tone of his face and includes his cheek, eye, and eyebrow. His new face is also fully functional; it is built with a mechanism to keep the water spilling out of his cavity left by surgery when he drinks. Doctors hope that these type of 3D printings can be printed with silicon for a more comfortable and natural look.

Moger’s new face and this artificial tissue is only the beginning of the medical revolution that is being witnessed through the lens of 3D printing. Medical companies are going to be faced with decisions in the near future on how to capitalize on this technology and use it to best impact their patients. It’s just another industry that has been completely revitalized by the ongoing advances seen in 3D printing. 50 years down the road, you could find yourself living with a new heart or kidney made from 3D printing. The possibilities are seemingly endless!

Sources:

http://www.cnbc.com/id/49348354

http://www.3ders.org/articles/20130404-breakthrough-3d-printer-creates-living-tissue.html

http://on3dprinting.com/2013/04/02/medical-3d-printing-face/

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