Our ability to print three dimensional (3D) objects from digital files has turned the world upside. With a little imagination and a 3D printer you can make practically anything.
And as 3D printers and printing materials become less expensive we are seeing them being used more and more in everyday life. One place they are making an exciting impact is in the world of medical science.
Models for surgery
Lifelike models made from real patient scans are proving invaluable for doctors as they plan for upcoming surgeries. These replicas of human anatomy allow surgeons to practice but can also be used to explain procedures to patients. Models also offer realistic examples for training medical students.
Producing artificial body parts, or prosthesis, for people that are missing them is a very expensive and time-consuming process. Being able to print those same parts on a 3D printer saves both time and money. While printing materials are not as durable as traditionally made prosthesis the difference in cost of a printed hand could be $50 compared to thousands of dollars. For children who quickly outgrew artificial limbs this is particularly appealing.
Surgical tools and equipment
In poorer areas of the world where surgical equipment is expensive and hard to find 3D printers are coming to the rescue. Surgical tools and equipment can be printed at lower costs even in hard to reach areas. These tools are sterile and can be made very small to operate on tiny areas.
Some printers are able to use living cells as material rather than plastic or metal. These bioprinters can layer bio-ink to create artificial living tissue that can be used to replace real organs in medical research. One day they may even be used as an alternative to human organ transplant.
Skeletal implants can be printed in calcium phosphate, the main ingredient in bone. These implants act as a framework on which the patient’s natural bone growth can form. Scientists have even developed what they have called hyperelastic bone, a bone that can grow as the body grows.
While it is early days for printing pills there is already one drug being printed to be used by people that suffer from certain types of seizures caused by epilepsy. The 3D printed pills melt in the mouth with a sip of water making it easier to swallow. In the future we may be able to print pills in the size we need and flavour we want.