3D printers are especially helpful in advancing treatment options in medicine. The printers are used to manufacture surgical tools less expensively than their traditional counterparts. 3D printing has also been used to create models to solve medical problems and to recreate body tissues. One day, the technology may be successfully implemented as an alternative to organ transplants.
Medical technicians continue developing the means to print human tissues. Instead of using plastic, metal or other materials, the printers have a computer-guided pipette that layers living cells or bio-ink. The research company Organovo is in the process of experimenting with the possibility of creating intestines and livers. They are also working on the theory of using 3D printers to manufacture medications. So far, 3D printers have proven useful for a number of medical replications that include:
- Anatomical models
- Customized medical implants
- Heart valves
- Prosthetic limbs
- Synthetic skin
- Testing new medical devices
- Tissues with blood vessels
- Medical equipment
Advantages of Medical 3D Printing
Many hospitals use 3D printers to create anatomical features in order to determine the best surgical method for treating complex cases. Initially, the patients undergo imaging scans to get a clear picture of the problem. The information is then entered into a computer that creates the program that guides the printer in creating the anatomical feature in three dimensions. Surgeons then study the model and experiment with various techniques before performing the actual surgery. By printing 3D organs and other structures, surgical residents have the chance to learn and hone their skills.
Having the ability to plan surgical strategies using 3D models also saves time and money. Time in a surgical room remains expensive. However, by knowing in advance how to perform a procedure, surgeons require less time in the operating room, which save money for the patient and the hospital. Practicing procedures in advance also saves money in terms of reducing waste.
GE Healthcare Helping Veterans
GE Healthcare recently partnered with VA Puget Sound Health Care System in order to improve the outcomes in the care of veterans. The company supplied the VA with the equipment needed to perform 3D printing. The VA need only provide GE with feedback concerning the technology. As VA medical centers treat approximately nine million patients annually, the technology not only improves the quality of life for veterans, GE also receives quality feedback for further research and development.