Imagine 3D printing a complete human heart that could be used in an emergency transplant. And then ask yourself, how would this breakthrough affect the medical field? The demand for organs for transplants always outweighs the supply. And the cost of many of those donor organs is the life of the donor. Technologies that are able to print complete organs are still years away, but as the medical field is pouring resources to reach the goal of printing an organ, they continue to utilize current 3D printing technologies to their fullest potential.
MasterGraphics has seen a huge increase in 3D printing in the medical industry. Some companies are using MRI data to print out visualization aids for doctors and surgeons to utilize during patient visits, and even to aid in the planning of the operations. Doctors take the 3D data provided by the MRI to print an exact copy of what will be operated on. Printed hip bones allow the surgeon to see exactly what the patient’s bone structure looks like before surgery. This allows for much faster procedures for the patients. It also minimizes any possibility of doctors running into problems they didn’t detect prior to surgery. 3D printing is also used to print custom hearing aids that fit exactly to the patient’s ears, or to print custom tools that are designed for a specific patient’s body. 3D printing also has a huge potential to aid people with disabilities. Custom orthotics and prosthetics can be printed quickly and inexpensively. Prosthetics are created to fit exactly on each patient, and much of this is done by hand. With 3D scanning and 3D printing, a part can be printed that will guarantee an exact fit for the patient. If a part breaks on those prosthetics, a replacement can be printed very quickly. And this only scratches the surface of the 3D printing applications for the medical industry.
3D printing technology is moving very rapidly and we can even print living cells at this point. In the near future I don’t think there will be a waiting list for organ transplants; we may even get to the point where we could replace a lung, like we replace the muffler on your car.
By: Jack Wolf – Imaging Support Specialist