3D Printing has come a long way since its inception. Today, practical applications of 3D printing technology are many and vary greatly from industry to industry. However, when it comes to the health industry, 3D printing is being used to save lives. From synthetic organs to cheap surgical instruments and prosthetics, the applications of this technology vary greatly with each use being just as important as the other.
Human Organ Transplants
It is now possible to bio-print tissues and human organs. Bioprinting entails the use of bio-ink in printing. Bio-ink is essentially a concoction of living cells, which are layered on top of one another by bioprinters to create an artificial tissue or organ. They are the perfect alternative to plastic or metal 3D printed organs.
These printed tissues have various applications. The most common is their utilization in research and tests where they are used as alternatives to the more expensive and harder to acquire human body organs. They can also be used as alternatives to organ transplants. Today, there are 3D printed skin grafts that can be applied to burn victims, and 3D printed intestinal tissue that helps alleviate certain diseases.
Traditional 3D printed organs are also still being used and widely popular. Their ability to be mass produced and custom made cannot be ignored. Many people owe their very existence to their synthetic 3D printed organs. Cheap and easy to replace, they have saved more lives than can be counted.
Speed Up Surgical Procedures
It is now possible to create patient-specific organ replicas and test specific surgical procedures on these models before working on the actual patient. Surgeons have found these models very useful for practicing on before carrying out actual procedures on patients. Lately, this work process has gained popularity and is slowly becoming more mainstream due to its high success rate.
The adoption and use of 3D printing technology in this way have saved many lives. Many dangerous and challenging surgical procedures can now be tried out in a risk-free environment first before being performed on an actual patient where the risks are far higher. This is why there have been proposals to make the use of 3D printed replicas before major operations an industry standard among surgeons.
Cheaper Surgical Equipment
Traditionally, surgical equipment has been famously prohibitively expensive to acquire. However, this is slowly changing. It is now possible to print and use a wide variety of sterile surgical equipment, such as forceps, clamps, scalpel handles, and hemostats. 3D printing has made it possible to produce highly accurate and customizable tools that can even be scaled down or up to a particular shape or size. This makes it possible to operate even the tiniest areas without unnecessary damage to nearby tissue. Plus, the production costs are very low.
Prosthetic limbs are a literal extension of the user. Users become more than physically attached to their limbs. However, particularly for growing children, prosthetic limbs need to change and grow with the wearer. Buying new limbs every year can be prohibitively expensive. However, with 3D printing technology, it is now possible to easily print and customize any prosthetic limb to suit and fit any wearer.
As an added bonus, 3D printing is fast on delivery. Traditionally, amputees would have to place an application, wait for it to be approved, then wait a few more weeks for the prosthetic to be made and delivered. With 3D printing, they can now get their desired limbs nearly instantly.
Additionally, you can now model your prosthetics after your existing limbs. For example, if you are missing an arm, you can scan your other arm and 3D print an exact flipped replica of it for your prosthetic. This makes it look more natural and be a better fit.
3D printing has also revolutionized the way hearing devices are produced. Initially, hearing aids were handmade and produced by skilled modelers in a time consuming and costly process. Today, through the application of 3D printing technology, it is possible to produce hearing devices at a fraction of the cost and several times the speed. All the shells for custom in-ear hearing aids and custom earpieces for behind-the-ear hearing aids can now be easily custom made and mass produced. This means that your hearing devices can now be custom made to fit your ear shape, ear size, and your level of hearing loss.
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