by Jennifer Livingston

Five Ways 3D Printing Can Change Health Care

4 years ago | Posted in: Health | 799 Views

When I say 3D printing, what comes to mind? Maybe the creation of game characters or even college projects that use a 3D printer, but how about the medical field?

These printers have a huge impact on the field, and here are five ways that 3D printers can ease burdens on the healthcare industry.

Fighting diabetes through the creation of new organs

We already know that organs can be created from stem cells, but Dr. Ozbolat, head of the Ozbolat Lab at Penn State University, has something bigger in mind.

He and researchers in the lab would like to create new organ structures that can nullify the effects of diabetes. Currently there is promising research: Ozbolat has been able to successfully bio-print glucose-sensitive pancreatic organs and place them in diabetics to regulate glucose production within the body.

According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2012 29 million Americans, 9.3% of the population, had been diagnosed with diabetes, and there are 1.4 million new cases each year. Can you imagine how much money is needed for this epidemic? 3D printing could be the answer to this predicament.

The technology can also be modified to treat other chronic illnesses and cancers.

Giving skin to burn victims

Current skin grafting procedures are painful, and involve removing skin from unaffected areas of the body.

University of Toronto researchers are able to combine skin cells and polymers and load them into 3D printers to create layers of skin. They used a simplified printer that costs much less than $200,000. The researchers say that the printer can produce tissue for 1/1000th of the cost.

Creating prosthesis

There’s already significant progress in this area, but there are a few issues.

Prosthesis wear down easily, they don’t always fit properly, and they also make patients feel disgraced. Another issue is the cost, with prosthesis ranging from $5,000-$50,000. 3D printing can create a prosthetic for a fraction of the cost.

Bespoke Innovations scientists have created limbs that conform to the wearer’s body and even their fashion sense.

Scientists and doctors are now looking towards creating entire new limbs using 3D technology. Doctors have recently replaced 75% of a man’s skull with a 3D implant, so it’s definitely within the realm of possibility.

Creating medical devices and tools

3D technology is useful in developing countries that don’t always have or can’t afford the proper tools.

iLab Haiti has used 3D tools to create clamps for umbilical cords in Haiti. Developing countries can also create on demand supplies like splints. It’s cheap, convenient, and on the spot.

Other devices that are being made include:

  • Airway stents for the trachea, which hold the trachea open to make breathing easier
  • Hearing aids that are made with a material called E-shell that’s waterproof and comes in many colors

Patient-specific implants for spinal surgery are also being created. Medicrea is the only medical device company that offers make patient-specific implants for the spine.

Addressing America’s dental needs

Dental coverage can be sparse, particularly for the poor.
3D printing is a good remedy for this because everyone’s mouth is unique. It’s also a cheaper and efficient way to take care of America’s smiles.

Thanks to 3D printing and vendor neutral archive technology, dentists can create customized products for the perfect fit. There are no molds required, it’s less invasive and more accurate. Invisalign is a great example. After scanning a patient’s mouth, a plastic aligner can be printed that looks like a retainer.

Other unique products made include: veneers, crowns, bleaching trays, bite guards, inlays, bridges, and dentures. And the patient doesn’t need to wait for it!

3D printers can do more than just make game characters and make items for college projects. It can influence health care by reducing the costs to make items, creating items that everyone may not have access to, and making them quickly. If you’re ever offered the chance to see or use one, you should take it.

By:  Jennifer Livingston

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