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3D printing in healthcare: from surgical tools to organ transplant breakthroughs

Updated: Feb 21


make 3d printed ear using FDM technology

3D printing, a relatively new manufacturing method, has experienced significant diversification in printing techniques, materials, and design options. This innovation has found niche applications across various sectors, particularly in healthcare and the life sciences.

The transformative influence of 3D printing extends to the realms of surgery and dentistry, fundamentally altering the processes involved. This technology revolutionizes the design of prosthetics and implants, enabling the production of tailored, personalized items perfectly suited to individual patients or specific tasks.

This article delves into the extensive applications of 3D printing in the healthcare sector, exploring its role in crafting surgical tools and facilitating organ transplants.


Brief history of 3D printing technology

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, involves the incremental addition of material in successive layers, as opposed to subtractive processes where the material is removed or through direct molding techniques. One of the earliest forms of 3D printing, stereolithography or resin printing, employs a UV laser to solidify photopolymer resin layer by layer, creating a three-dimensional structure.


One of the earliest forms of 3D printing was stereolithography, now more commonly termed resin printing, in which a UV laser is aimed in the desired pattern in a layer-by-layer manner at photopolymer resin, hardening it and transforming the liquid into a solid three-dimensional structure.


The term 3D printing was not actually coined until 1995, by Professor Ely Sachs, MIT, who worked on modifying inkjet printers to extrude a binding solution onto a powder bed, known as powder bed fusion 3D printing (of which there are many types: selective laser sintering, direct metal laser sintering, electron beam melting, etc.).


Over time, 3D printing has evolved into more commonly used methods, like fused deposition modeling (FDM), where an extrusion head moves in three dimensions above a platform. Currently, there are over 18 methods of 3D printing, each with numerous modifications, enabling the production of custom products in a wide range of materials. These methods vary in terms of ease of use, accessibility, quality, and suitability for medical applications.


Advancements in Surgical Instruments and Equipment

The utilization of 3D printing is on the rise in the development of surgical aids, encompassing the creation of precise training models, specialized instruments, and scaffolds crucial for implantation or tissue repair.

One of the major advantages of 3D printing technologies is that iterative changes can be made to newly designed tools based on immediate feedback from surgeons and other medical professionals. design changes can be implemented in silico and a new device printed overnight.

The capability to generate patient-specific training models has the potential to revolutionize surgical practices. By accurately replicating the intricate details of a patient's internal organs, obtained through various scanning technologies, surgeons can anticipate and navigate through the complexities of surgeries with fewer surprises.

This advanced preparation proves invaluable, particularly in the context of more intricate surgical procedures.


3D Printing cemented using in health-

Customized Prosthetics and Implants

Ensuring optimal comfort and user satisfaction is a significant challenge in the realm of mass-produced prosthetics. Users often abandon these prosthetics due to discomfort, awkwardness, or aesthetic concerns.


Bionic prosthetics, designed to execute robotic movements through muscle contractions, require meticulous positioning and secure attachment for both functionality and comfortable usage.


The advent of 3D printing technologies facilitates the creation of customized prosthetics using biocompatible materials. This allows for the production of more comfortable prosthetics with the potential for intricate designs and reduced mass compared to traditional counterparts.


In 2014, Johns Hopkins Hospital hosted a conference titled "Prosthetists Meet 3D Printers," where medical and 3D printing experts convened to discuss the present and future applications of 3D printing in prosthetics.


Currently, various collaborative initiatives are underway to leverage 3D printing in the field of prosthetics. Dedicated websites offer freely downloadable and printable prosthetic designs for home use. Simultaneously, companies specializing in prosthetic production for specific markets have emerged.


An illustrative example is Locanam , a India -based company specializing in custom 3D-printed prosthetics. Their offerings include prosthetics with superhero designs for children and specialized fittings for musicians, reflecting the diverse applications and innovations in this evolving field.


Breakthroughs in 3D-printed organs

Numerous biomaterials can be strategically incorporated into the additive manufacturing process, such as 3D printing, to create implantable scaffolds, tissues, and even entire organs.

In this innovative approach, bioinks containing living cells are systematically deposited layer by layer to fabricate organs. This method typically involves the utilization of a scaffold and/or natural polymers within the bioink, which subsequently harden to secure the cells in place. Numerous biomaterials can be strategically incorporated into the additive manufacturing process, such as 3D printing, to create implantable scaffolds, tissues, and even entire organs.

In this innovative approach, bioinks containing living cells are systematically deposited layer by layer to fabricate organs. This method typically involves the utilization of a scaffold and/or natural polymers within the bioink, which subsequently harden to secure the cells in place. Hydrogel polymers like fibrin, gelatin, alginates, chitosan, and hyaluronic acids are commonly employed in this process. Organs produced through 3D printing using patient-cultured cells are inherently more biocompatible than those obtained from donors.

Organ 3D printing encompasses various techniques, and the technology is still in its early stages. One widely adopted method, known as cell seeding, involves 3D printing a supportive scaffold from biocompatible materials and subsequently seeding it with cells. These cells then proliferate within the structure, potentially aiding in wound healing, and the entire process is still evolving.

Customized 3D-printed organs offer the advantage of tailoring the organ to suit the specific needs of the patient, not only in terms of biocompatibility but also in terms of shape and size. For instance, adjustments to the size of heart valves can be made to precisely match the individual patient's anatomy.

Hydrogel polymers like fibrin, gelatin, alginates, chitosan, and hyaluronic acids are commonly employed in this process. Organs produced through 3D printing using patient-cultured cells are inherently more biocompatible than those obtained from donors.

Organ 3D printing encompasses various techniques, and the technology is still in its early stages. One widely adopted method, known as cell seeding, involves 3D printing a supportive scaffold from biocompatible materials and subsequently seeding it with cells. These cells then proliferate within the structure, potentially aiding in wound healing, and the entire process is still evolving.

Customized 3D-printed organs offer the advantage of tailoring the organ to suit the specific needs of the patient, not only in terms of biocompatibility but also in terms of shape and size. For instance, adjustments to the size of heart valves can be made to precisely match the individual patient's anatomy.




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