3D modelling in healthcare simplifies the everyday job of all medical experts, enabling them to save an increasing amount of lives every day. The medical industry is known for being the most sophisticated in devising new treatments and approaches. Not to mention the technologies that make it all achievable.
3D printing in healthcare is already on the way. To practice before surgery, one can build instruments, implants, prostheses, or anatomical models. In the medical industry, additive manufacturing enables the low-cost fabrication of customized medical goods.
3D printing breakthroughs in healthcare have brought in lighter, stronger, and safer goods, as well as quick delivery and lower costs. Custom parts can be made to fit individual needs.
This improves medical practitioners’ knowledge of patients and increases patient comfort by permitting interaction with goods that are precisely tailored for their anatomy.
Doctors, hospitals and researchers around the world are using 3D printing for:
- preoperative planning and customized surgery.
- medical devices and surgical instruments.
- molds, prostheses and customizable implants.
- 3D digital dentistry and drug administration.
3D printing allows specialists to create reference models using MRI scans and CT in order to help surgeons prepare better for surgeries.
Due to decreased costs of 3D printers and increased availability of CAD/CAM medical software, more hospitals are creating in-house 3D-printed anatomical models. The process entails several steps:
- MRI and CT scans are processed in a stage known as segmentation.
- Each organ and body part type is modelled.
- Models are translated into STL file formats, arranged for printing and sent to the 3D printer.
Designing medical devices
In order to serve their purpose, medical devices must meet several requirements:
- They need to comprise the perfect balance in terms of size and weight.
- The must match the particular shapes of the human body.
- They have to be functional, and they have to pass specific endurance tests.
Producing medical device to meet these criteria traditionally required extensive time. The alternative found by medical device manufacturers was stereolithography – a process in which a moving laser beam controlled by computer builds the required structure layer by layer.
Thus 3D printing has been used to create the prototype of an inhaler, including the needed fixtures and jigs, aiming to:
- Reduce production from one to two weeks to one to two days.
- Reduce cost 90%
Improving surgical instruments
Customized 3D-printed surgical instruments such as scalpel handles, forceps or clamps help surgeons perform better in the OR, reduce operating time and promote better surgical outcomes for the patients.
Manufactured from materials such as stainless steel, nylon, titanium alloys or nickel, customized surgical instruments are well suited for sterilization. Endocon GmbH – a German medical device producer – has used metal 3D printing to create an alternative surgical tool for hip cup removal.
This is traditionally a 30-minute procedure performed with a chisel, but the chisel can sometimes damage the tissue and bones, which results in an uneven surface, making the insertion of a new hip implant difficult.
While simple prostheses are available in predefined sizes, customized bionic prostheses cost thousands of dollars. This situation affects many children who outgrow their prostheses and need customized replacement parts, which are produced by a handful of manufacturers.
In 2016, Lyman Connor and Eduardo Salcedo created the Lyman’s Mano-matic prosthesis to provide bionic prosthetics to those who need them and cannot afford them. Globally, prostheses designers can use 3D printing to overcome the financial obstacles and time line constraints entailed by this process.
The costs of this manufacturing method are significantly lower than traditional methods, and the prostheses are ready in approximately two weeks, making 3D printing a viable solution for customized bionic devices that replicate a human limb’s motions and grips.
Metal 3D printing enables medical devices designers to produce implants that perform better, match better and last longer, for knees, spine, skull or hips.
Electron Beam Melting (EBM) is a technology that melts a metal powder layer by layer with the help of an electron beam, thus generating high-accuracy parts. These orthopedic implants provide spongy structures that mimic regular bone tissue, resulting in a higher percentage of osseointegration – the in-growth of a bone into a metal implant.
3D Digital Dentistry
In the dental industry, 3D printing is used for the manufacturing of dentures, surgical guides, bridge models and, most of all, for clear aligners – invisible devices that straighten teeth.
Compared to metal braces, clear aligners are actually invisible and can be taken off when the wearers need to brush their teeth or eat. The traditional production method of clear aligners is a combination of manual and milling processes that requires time and effort. The 3D printing technique speeds up the process, since customized molds for clear aligners can be manufactured directly from digital scans of patients.
Looking for cost-efficient solutions, one dental start-up has perfected an easy process to produce molds for clear aligners:
- Customers take impressions of their teeth with an at-home impression kit or an intraoral scan at a specialized center.
- Impressions and scans are checked by a dental professional, who creates a plan for treatment.
- The company then sends the 3D-printed aligners to the customers.
Streamlining drug administration
3D printing can also simplify drug administration with the help of 3D-printed pills. Polypill is a concept designed for patients suffering from several affections, containing five different drugs compartments and two separate release profiles.
The administration of a single customized pill to treat several ailments has multiple advantages:
- increased medication adherence to prescribed treatments.
- customized medication or drug combinations.
- lower production costs, due to the ability to treat more affections at the same time.
- greater accessibility in developing countries to affordable and efficient drugs.
Bone and Joint Reconstruction
Just like prostheses, you can also use medical 3D printing to help with bone and joint reconstruction. Instead of using a one-size-fits-all implant (that often doesn’t “fit all”), you can use additive manufacturing to create customized implants.
In addition to bone reconstruction, healthcare providers are also starting to 3D print synthetic cartilage that can be used to rebuild joints and other body parts. Here are just a few of the major applications for which 3D printing can be used:
- Jaw reconstruction
- Hip replacements
- Knee replacements
- Breast reconstruction
- Facial reconstruction
prostheses Tailor-Made for Patients
Prostheses made using traditional manufacturing methods are expensive and not necessarily adapted to a patient’s unique morphology. If a patient does need a custom prosthesis, the costs can skyrocket, and it would take some time for the order to be fulfilled.
Prostheses, by definition, need to be custom-made for the patient. After all, no two people are exactly alike or have the exact same injuries. Doctors can use 3D modeling software to help create detailed, three-dimensional images of prostheses that they can collaborate with each other – and perhaps more importantly, with the patient – to ensure a proper fit.
Then, using 3D printing, they can create customized prostheses that are perfectly suited to fit their patients’ exact needs in a timely, cost-effective manner.
Bioprinting Artificial Organs and Tissue
Thanks to a process called bioprinting, medical 3D printers are now able to print functional tissue. Rather than using metal or plastic, bioprinters can create models with living cells.
Soon, 3D printers in the medical field will be able to create tissue to help with skin grafting and reconstructive surgery. Labs are also starting to experiment with printing liver and intestinal tissue to help manage certain diseases.
In a more miraculous form of bioprinting, experts are using 3D printing to create functional human organs. So far, researchers have been able to replicate a working lung and an artificial heart. It won’t be long before patients won’t need to wait on transplant lists or spend inordinate amounts of money to get the organs they need.
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