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Though 3D printing is still relatively new to the consumer market, it is making strong headway into medical fields with a variety of surgical uses. A recent story from the Netherlands highlighted the latest advances in medical 3D printing technology when neurosurgeons there replicated and replaced a 22-year-old woman’s skull. The operation, which was carried out 3 months ago, has been deemed a success as the patient has not shown any signs of rejection and is now fully recovered.
The use of 3D printing has been around for almost 20 years. It is only of recent that its use has become more accepted by the medical community. New CAD technology and developments in materials allow 3D printers to create ever more versatile parts for medical use. Here are three ways medical 3D printing technology is proving essential to doctors’ toolkits across the globe.
1. 3D printing can be used for bone repair
A 3D skull implant made by Oxford Performance Materials is now approved for use by the FDA. “The skull is made of polyetherketoneketone or PEKK, a high performance polymer used in biomedical implants because it is biocompatible and mechanically similar to bone. It also does not to interfere with X-ray equipment.”
The use of digital CAD files and a layer-by-layer construction technique enables surgeons to get a perfect customized fit for patients, without wasting excess material in the process.
2. Human tissue and organs can be mimicked by 3D printing
A company called Organovo Holdings Inc. is using 3D technology to create living organs that are made from the patient’s own cells. “The San Diego-based company’s five- and 10-year goals are first to use a patient’s own cells to print tissue strips that can be used to patch failing organs, and finally to be able to create entire new organs.” They currently produce human tissue strips to sell to biotech and pharmaceutical companies working on new drugs and treatments. Ideally, developments in generating human organs will alleviate the growing number of patients on organ-transplant waiting lists.
3. 3D printing can create partial bone or ligament structures
The beauty of 3D printing is its ability to create parts of any size and to exact specifications. Consider the use of how the technology was used to produce a new windpipe for 16-month-old Garrett Peterson. Born with a defective windpipe, it was nearly impossible for him to breathe as his trachea would often collapse, cutting off the flow of oxygen to his lungs. Doctors from the University of Michigan used 3D printing technology to print and implant splints on both sides of Garrett’s windpipe, keeping it open and air flowing. The 3D printed splints are designed to expand as he grows and will eventually dissolve into his body as his own trachea matures and strengthens.
From creating small splints to almost a whole human skull, 3D printing is an exciting technology in the medical field. For the latest developments in medical technology, follow us on Twitter.
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