Redesigning the future of healthcare: additive manufacturing in medicine

14th June 2021

Whilst additive manufacturing continues to adapt and evolve industries like automotive, aerospace, and education, one frontier that still holds vast untapped potential is the field of medicine.

Existing studies of 3D printing in healthcare have shown numerous advantages. Patient-specific organ replicas, printed for surgeons to study and practise on before undergoing the real operation, speeds up procedure whilst minimising patient trauma. Printed bones with realistic biomechanical detail can be used to test pull-out force on orthopaedic screws without the need for human cadaver bones. Custom anatomical models can give doctors a first-hand look at the intricacies of a myriad conditions and diseases, on demand.

With such a wealth of potential, where can 3D printing support practitioners today, and how can the uninitiated introduce themselves to the revolution that additive manufacturing offers?

Saving time, saving lives

Commonplace medical techniques for seeing into the body and ascertaining a patient’s biological makeup are perfect for informing additive manufacturing. X-rays, and CT and MRI scans, provide the ideal data to create detailed 3D models, unique to each patient.

In January 2018, a team of surgeons in Belfast were able to plan a successful kidney transplant thanks to a 3D printed model of the donor’s kidney. The donor – the patient’s father – had a potentially cancerous cyst on the organ, but by using their model, the surgeons were able to ensure a method for precise removal of the cyst whilst maximising healthy tissue yield.

Procedures that would previously have to wait until operation day can now be drilled and tested with no harm to the patient; issues and setbacks need not impact patient health when they can be discovered ahead of time. This kind of point-of-care manufacturing doesn’t rely on logistic delays or minimum orders for batch-made products – it can be done case-by-case, person-by-person, to keep medicine adaptive for the individual.

Additive manufacturing has already transformed the efficacy of surgical guides, which can be made custom to their purpose and to the body, all whilst saving cost and time and increasing patient satisfaction. Doctors can use 3D printed medical models to show and educate their patients before committing to procedures, leading to more informed consent and better peace of mind.

Medical 3D printing also accommodates a range of biocompatible materials, meaning non-toxic and fully safe parts that facilitate healing and mimic the real thing much more closely. Prosthetics created using patient data can be created to ensure that they fit more comfortably and mimic the patient’s individual anatomy more closely.

Children in particular need constant replacement of prosthetics as they grow and adapt, and certain prostheses require specialised features, such as ankle joints on legs to enable running. Prostheses can cost tens of thousands to the end user, and with potential months of waiting each time, 3D printing in medicine can remove the strain.

More accessible than ever

3D printing medical devices has taken a huge leap forward with the Stratasys J5 MediJet. With a 30% lower cost per part compared to outsourcing, and a 30% faster print time against comparable printing solutions, it represents a brand-new avenue for companies in the medical industry to explore the massive potential of additive manufacturing and begin reaping the benefits of reduced cost and saved time.

Eliminate the demands of outsourcing whilst ensuring quality of parts in full colour, all with repeatable results in-house.

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