The Role of 3D Printing in the Healthcare Industry

3D printing is the latest technology that is working to revolutionize manufacturing, but it is also having an impact on other fields. The most notable of those is medicine, where doctors are using it to plan important medical procedures and to produce prosthetics and even organs to help treat serious injuries.

Planning

When doctors first gained access to 3D printers, they immediately began to use them to build models prior to surgeries. Every person’s organs are unique, and doctors need to plan their surgeries in advance to avoid unpleasant surprises during the procedure. They used to rely exclusively on flat images to do so, but 3D models are vastly superior for that purpose. 3D printing made them cheap enough that they could be used for most surgeries, which makes the process significantly easier for the physician and safer for the patient.

Prosthetics

Many people need prosthetic limbs, but they tend to be very expensive. Fortunately, 3D printing is slowly changing that fact and driving the price down to more affordable levels. 3D printing dramatically reduces the cost of producing a prosthetic limb, both because it is much easier to adjust a limb’s size when it is produced with a printer rather than traditional methods, and because the cost of manufacturing is much lower. They also allow anyone to produce the prosthetics anywhere that a 3D printer can be found, which makes them more accessible for people who live far away from major medical facilities.

This is also helping to advance prosthetic technology. Previously, most prosthetic designs were owned by private companies. Many of the designs that 3D printers use are released under an open source license, which allows anyone to use or edit them as long as they don’t use them to turn a profit. That makes it easy for students or engineers to make small changes to the designs, which they then release to the public to continue the cycle.

Organs

Organ printing is one of the most promising avenues for modern medical research. The technology is new and largely experimental, but it relies on using a 3D printer that prints with cells and other biological materials rather than conventional plastic. That opens up the possibility of using the printers to create custom organs for transplants, which could greatly reduce or even eliminate the risk of a rejection and the need for long-term immunosupressive treatment after the transplant.

This is a very young technology, so it has not been used very often. The vast majority of the printed organs are being used for drug testing at the moment, which is helping to reduce research costs and address ethical concerns. However, animal testing has shown that this type of tissue transplant can work, so it’s only a matter of time until traditional organ donation becomes a thing of the past.

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