3D Printing and Healthcare

9th January 2015 by Chiara Facco

Another year over, and a new one just begun...

What does the medDigital Blog have in store for you in 2015? We've been tweeting and blogging about countless technology and digital health news over the past few months, so we thought we'd begin our January investigations by looking into how 3D printing might be influencing healthcare innovation.  

Some may think that 3D printing in healthcare is still science fiction, but it's already here! Crowns and dental implants can be manufactured while the patient reads a magazine in the waiting room (a procedure that used to take up to two weeks), while custom-made joints for knee replacement surgery are already available in highly specialised medical facilities like the Mayo Clinic.

Most hearing aids are already 3D-printed, and a customised splint has been successfully printed and inserted to support a newborn's collapsing trachea. Recently surgeons at a New York hospital used a 3D printed model of an infant’s unusual heart to prepare for life-saving surgery!  

Plastic and metal aside, researchers have been experimenting with BioInk to print layers of live human tissues. In a few years' time we may have the chance to build a whole new liver for transplant surgery, while in the meantime 3D-bio-printing is already disrupting the clinical research scene by providing quicker, cheaper and more effective substrates for toxicology tests.   Inevitably, technology and scientific innovation open doors we are not sure we should be opening.

Are we playing "God" by trying to build functioning human organs from scratch? How should the right to print organs be regulated, and how should we seek consent to use the biomaterials they originate from?   What are your thoughts?    

References and interesting reads:

The independent. 3D printed heart saves baby’s life as medical technology leaps ahead. 06 October 2014. The Guardian.

Medical implants and printable body parts to drive 3D printer growth. 24 August 2014. The Telegraph.

The next step: 3D printing the human body. 11 February 2014. ForbesBrandVoice.

3 Ways 3-D Printing Could Revolutionize Healthcare. 22 August 2013.