3D printing is an additive manufacturing process where a digital model is turned into a solid three-dimensional physical object by adding materials layer by layer. The most advanced and exciting applications of 3D printing can be found in the world of healthcare and medicine where it is used to replicate complex organs that sustain our bodies. For example, with this technology, it’s now possible to print an outer ear from the hydrogel, human cells and silver nano particles which looks and operates exactly like a human ear. Another striking example of this technology is the ability to print human skin which could be highly beneficial for burn victims and for those suffering from some kind of skin conditions.
Here’s how 3D printing is used in healthcare:
3D printing in hearing aids
One of the most spectacular revolutions in 3D printing is the manufacturing of hearing aids. Traditionally, manufacturing of hearing aids looked like an artisan production and took a long time to finish – almost over a week. 3D printing is a pioneering technology – a complete breakthrough in the modernisation and digitisation of hearing-aid manufacturing. It can accurately create the shape of the shell that can be tailored optimally to the wearer’s individual ear canal shape and size and can be adjusted according to the degree of hearing loss.
3D printing in dentistry
In dentistry, earlier – single, personalised objects were manufactured for implants and surgeries. The obvious next step was to combine oral scanning, CAD/CAM design, and 3D printing to accurately and rapidly produce crowns, bridges, plaster or stone models etc. Rather than uncomfortable impressions, a 3D scan is taken and later on transformed into a 3D model and then sent for 3D printing.
3D printed prostheses
3D printed prostheses are a striking example of how this technique has influenced healthcare and surgery. 3D printed prostheses are completely customized as per the taste and comfort of the wearer. They are more comfortable than the traditional prostheses and can be manufactured in a day. Moreover, research is being conducted so that they can be made stretchable and expandable so that they can ‘grow’ with the child.
Virtual surgical planning
It’s a known fact that imaging techniques are important in medical practice. 3D printing introduces an improvement is surgical planning. 3D printed replicas of internal organs can reproduce the size, weight as well as the texture of the organs and allow the surgeons to rehearse complicated surgical procedures on these 3D models. Realistically mimicking the organs allow medical students to practice the surgeries too.
Not limited to these, 3D printed models are widely used in several medical applications and surgeries to produce high-quality replacements or implants for spine, hip, pelvis, trachea and other body parts.
The future of 3D printing in healthcare is promising and makes the formerly impossible treatments easier. With ongoing research, 3DP will definitely revolutionize a huge part of healthcare and make room for increasingly sophisticated applications, surgeries, and treatments.