3D Printing in Medicine

In addition to having applications in Agriculture, Manufacturing, Education and other industries, 3D printing is also entering the world of medicine. Slowly and steadily, newer possibilities are being created for the use of 3D printed products in surgeries and treatments.
Here are some real-life examples of these applications.

Medical Equipment

Medical equipment for use in surgeries can be produced using 3D printers. Instruments such as forceps, haemostats, scalpel handles and clamps in addition to others have already been 3D printed and used in some places.

The tools printed out are sterile, and hence safe to use on patients. These can be printed out very small and with high precision in their design. These instruments can be used to operate on tiny areas without causing unnecessary damage to the patient.

3D printed equipment- produced for about 3 dollars each

Using 3D printing to produce these instruments has its benefits:

  • Customised instruments can be printed out for a specific surgery easily after accurately designing
  • Cost of production is significantly lower than traditional manufacturing methods
  • In isolated areas where transport of medical equipment is extremely difficult, 3D printed instruments can save lives

3D Printed Prosthetics

3D printing is being successfully used to create prosthetic limbs for amputees. Normally, placing a demand for a specific type of prosthetic limb and then getting the final product can take a lot of time. It is also very expensive. In developing countries, most people have neither time nor money to invest; they also lack access to the necessary resources.

Using 3D printing technologies, patients can get a design made especially for their needs- much faster, and for cheaper.

The low-cost technology is especially beneficial in case of children who outgrow their prosthetics quickly.

A girl with a 3d printed prosthetic for her left arm

3d printed Prosthetic limbs for amputees (Built according to their limb structure)

3D Printed Orthotics

For conditions of the foot and ankle, various kinds of foot pads or heel inserts are used. These orthotic devices help in proper functioning and improvement in skeletal structure of an individual.

Now, with every individual having a different lifestyle, it becomes important to produce an orthotic to cater to their unique needs.
3D printing allows just this!

Digital foot scanning can be first used to capture pin-point accurate models of a patient’s feet. These models are used to develop high-accuracy orthotics that match the contours of the patient’s feet perfectly. Clinics around the world are already using this technique to guarantee long time satisfaction to their patients.

3D printed insoles to create customized solution for feet

3D Printed Prosthetics for Animals

When animals suffer injuries and lose one or more limbs, they often have to live like that forever. Since there are so many different breeds, research and development in this field was negligible until now.

However, this is changing with 3D printing.

3D scanners can be used to make scans of the animal’s limb, followed by its modelling. A prosthesis animal limb can then be 3D printed. This method clearly wins in terms of efficiency over traditional ways.

  • No expensive moulds required
  • No additional labour required: less workload on veterinarian
  • Product received in a few days

Many such prosthetics have been developed for a number of animals so far.

Tucker the dog was born missing several bones in his back right foot; with a 3D printed functional claw made of PLA, he can run comfortably.

After injuring one of its legs in an accident, Pecky the duck got a 3D printed prosthesis made with PLA.

Sonic, a 4 month old cat had problem walking due to a missing bone in its front leg. With a 3D printed paw, the cat can move without problem.

3D Printed Anatomical Models for Surgical Study

The human body is complicated and performing surgeries on complicated networks or structures can be difficult for even the most trained surgeon. 3D printing complete realistic models of an organ or body part (like the brain with its nerves) can be helpful in determining the safest surgical route and the surgeon can rehearse challenging cases.

3D model used for surgical planning by neurosurgeons

3D Printed Cranium Replacement

This has been done thrice, in 3 different countries. The patients either had a crushed skull due to an accident or had brain damage, they received 3D printed implants.
In one of the cases, plastic was used as the printing material.