3D Printing is a revolutionary technology, and since its introduction into the medical field, it has shown great potential. The market research firm Garner predicted in 2015 that medical 3D printing would become the pioneering field that would push additive manufacturing (AM) into the mainstream within five years. At its simplest, 3D printing works by depositing material layer by layer to build along a third axis. The possibilities seem limitless as technology continues to advance and scientists find new applications of 3D printing. In this blog, we are going to take a closer look at some of these applications.

3D-Printed Implants

Osseus Fusion Systems received its FDA clearance for its Aries family of 3D-printed lumbar implants back in 2018. The design features 80 percent porosity and a proprietary mesh lattice that reduces stiffness while increasing bone cell growth. One of the key reasons that 3D printing is being adopted for the creation of surgical implants is that it makes it easy to customize the implant to the patient. These customizations in curvature and size can result in better outcomes for the patient by fitting them better than a mass-produced part. Currently, orthopedic devices are among the most prevalent of the 3D-printed implants, though spinal, craniomaxillofacial, and knee implants are increasing in number.

Bioprinting

The ultimate goal of bioprinting is the ability to 3D print patient-specific transplant organs.  This could eliminate the need for waiting lists and donors, and more importantly, the chances of organ rejection. Unfortunately, the technology is not quite there yet, though it is advancing. Scientists have printed a sort of organ “scaffolding” on which stem cells can be deposited to populate and eventually create an organ. While the hope of fully functioning, vascular organs is still distant, it is commonplace to 3D print layers of simple tissue. For example, Poietis is one company that has created a laser-based method for 3D printing biological matter like skin cells and liver tissue. 

Surgical Tools

In the first two applications that we mentioned, we covered medical interventions, but 3D printing is also aiding in the evolution of medical tools. Endocon, a German medical company, developed a printed device that facilitates the extraction of hip cups. The use of 3D printing has decreased production time, reduced the rejection rate from 30 percent down to 3 percent, and dropped the cost per blade by 40 to 45 percent. Meanwhile, in the United States, Johnson & Johnson has introduced personalization in surgical tools with the help of 3D printing. Previously surgeons entered the operating room with a series of different tool sizes, but now they can use a patient’s CT scan to produce anatomy-specific tools, thus reducing operation time while improving effectiveness.