How 3D printing is changing medicine

Sensemaking / How 3D printing is changing medicine

From affordable prosthetics to tailor-made organs, 3D printing is transforming health solutions.

By Sarah LLoyd / 02 Mar 2016

The use of 3D printers within the realm of medicine has skyrocketed in recent years. Innovators and doctors alike are continually experimenting with new applications, from prosthetic limbs to printing skin straight onto the wounds of burn victims.

Designers have been using 3D printers to create artificial limbs for some time now, with new designs and prototypes being developed. The real step forward is making these limbs accessible for people that cannot afford prosthetics otherwise.

An example of this is Not Impossible Labs who took 3D printers to Sudan where the chaos of war has left many people with amputated limbs. The organization’s founder, Mick Ebeling, trained locals in how to operate the machinery, create patient-specific limbs, and fit these new, very inexpensive prosthetics. 

Researchers have also moved towards making human tissue and organs using 3D printers. They have printed self-organised structures resembling a developing brain, a bit of a liver, and part of an eye. However the lack of blood vessels in these projects have stopped them from developing further.

Researchers from Harvard now believe they have solved this problem, by creating tissues interlaced with blood vessels using a 3D Printer. They have done this by creating hollow, tube-like structures within a mesh of printed cells using “ink” that liquefies as it cools.

These new developments in 3D Printing for medical use, opens up a realm of possibilities of what is to come in the next few years, from affordable access to prosthetics, to a revolution in transplant procedures with new organs developed from patients' own cells.

Image Credit: Wake Forest Institute For Regenerative Medicine

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

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