3D Printing improves healthcare in drug creation and surgery planning

A popular research firm has forecasted a 10.0% of the people living in the developed world to have 3D-printed items in or on their bodies by 2019. Furthermore, over a third of surgical procedures incorporating the use of implanted devices and prosthetics could involve 3D printing as a central tool. Another research company has estimated the 3D printing market to grow from a US$0.66 bn in 2016 to a US$1.21 bn by 2020. 3D printing in healthcare has been prognosticated to bear a transformative impact of the cloud or the World Wide Web. Besides organ models, 3D printers could be engaged in healthcare to produce human skin, drugs, prosthetics, hearing aids, and medical and dental implants.

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Five ways 3D printing is changing medicine

Before inserting and expanding a pen-sized stent into someone’s aorta, the hose-like artery that carries our blood away from the heart, surgeon Jason Chuen likes to practice on the patient first. Not for real of course, but in plastic.

Which explains the 3D printer in his office and the brightly coloured plastic aortas that line his window sill at the Austin Hospital in Melbourne. They are all modelled from real patients and printed out from CT scans, ultrasounds and x-rays.

“By using the model I can more easily assess that the stent is the right size and bends in exactly the right way when I deploy it,” says Mr Chuen, Director of Vascular Surgery at Austin Health and a Clinical Fellow at the University of Melbourne.

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3D Printing our way to better healthcare

In the late 1990s, a young patient required a bladder replacement, something for which a transplant wasn’t possible.  The doctors treating that patient came up with an alternative solution: make one.  They called on the expertise of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine to build a scaffolding in the shape of the required organ, and on that framework, they grew a bladder using the patient’s cells.  This was one of the first uses of 3D printing in the healthcare sector. Since then, 3D printing has become a significant tool in healthcare.

At the start of the 21st Century, the hearing aid industry worldwide used injection moulding and traditional handcrafts to form inner ear implants.  In that first decade, though, 3D printing began to be used, making the case into which the delicate electronics was sat such that each fitting was shaped to the ear canal of each individual patient, something that would have been prohibitively expensive, with long lead times to deliver if done using traditional techniques.  In the USA, the entire hearing aid industry shifted to 3D printed implants within 12 months, and today over 90% of the industry uses 3D printing.

That same shift is now happening in dentistry, where crowns and implants are scanned or moulds taken by a dentist, who send the required shapes to a 3D printing laboratory that then makes the necessary items to the exact specification for that patient, all in a fraction of the time that it traditionally takes.

So what is 3D printing?  Have we invented Star Trek-like replicators that can make anything in any shape, in any material?

Image result for 3d printing medicalAll 3D printing, or additive manufacture as it is traditionally known, involves making things by building them layer upon layer.  The techniques may involve laying plastic or powders on a base in the desired shape then heating or treating them to form a layer, then repeatedly doing so, building an item from the bottom up.  More recent technologies use lasers to melt metal powers and electrostatics to solidify liquid resins.

It surprises many to find that the technology is over 30 years old, and it was used primarily in designing and prototyping for much of the first 20 years, particularly in the automotive and architectural sectors.  The last 10 year has seen a significant change, though.

Today, 3D printing is a widely used, fast growing technique that is already transforming medicine.  Everyday sees news stories about an amazing application of the technology.  These range from helping surgeons to plan complicated procedures by using a 3D printed exact model of a patient’s internal organs or bones, to producing implants for joints or replace shattered bones.  Why the sudden interest and acceleration?  That comes from advances in the technology, allowing for faster manufacture and new materials to be made with higher strengths and tolerances.  It comes from the flexibility of 3D printed parts to have complex structures, and for the economic viability of producing single items with a unique shape just as cheaply as making thousands of a standard form.

Image result for 3d printing pharmaIn one example of how it is changing medicine, Joel Gibbard, CEO of Open Bionics, was recently quoted in the engineering magazine E&T describing how “the capability to produce bionic prosthetic arms for children as young as eight years old is only possible through the use of 3D printing”.  The technology reduces the time to make a prosthetic ready to wear from measurement from 3 months – when considering visiting a specialist consultant for fitting, the time taken to order and receive parts and the manufacturing process – to one day.  Moreover, the finished arm can be made lighter as the density of components can be reduced by using complex lattices rather than solid structures, something that isn’t possible with injection moulding or traditional manufacture.  This has also reduced the cost of making more sophisticated prosthetics by up to a factor of ten.

3D printing is now entering into new areas and the developments are exciting.  In the pharmaceutical space, companies are using 3D printers to make tablets with the precise dosage a patient needs, rather than treating everyone with a one-size-fits-all approach.  Some are using 3D printers to make tablets in shapes that make them more acceptable to children, easing the burden of getting them to take their medicine.

ORelated imagene company, Organvo, is producing 3D printed liver tissues that allows for the faster development of pharmaceutical treatments.  Other companies are developing 3D printed organs, such as hearts, out of materials that the body doesn’t reject as strongly as a transplanted organ would.  Others are developing 3D printed skin for the treatment of burns.  The success of early trials of these has been very positive, and promises to revolutionise healthcare.

As the technology evolves, the cost of a 3D printed item is dropping, opening up the range of patients who can benefit from it.  What does this mean to all of us?  It means that medicine is moving towards treating us more and more as individuals, with medicines, implants, and prosthetics tuned to our exact needs, and available to us faster than has historically been the case.

3D printing is one technology that is improving healthcare.  To read about others, click here.

Why drug testing may be the most important application of 3D Bioprinting

3D bioprinting is, needless to say, great cause for excitement. Usually, most people’s minds go immediately to one idea: the idea that in the future, we may be able to 3D print working human organs that can actually be transplanted into patients, saving their lives without requiring a donated organ from another person. It’s understandable that people are excited about that prospect; 3D bioprinted organs potentially carry tremendous advantages. People could receive lifesaving organ transplants right away, without having to wait for a donor match, eliminating the years-long wait lists as well as the guilt that comes from benefiting from the death of another person. In addition, the idea is that 3D printed organs are formed from the patient’s own stem cells, eliminating the risk of rejection and the need for immunosuppressive drugs.

In reality, we probably won’t see 3D printed, transplantable human organs for several years yet. 3D printing an organ is more than just 3D printing layers of cells into the shape of a kidney or liver; those organs must be able to carry out all of the distinct functions of their natural counterparts, and they have to be capable of integrating with the body’s existing systems, which involves the development of nerves and blood vessels. Progress is being made in the development of 3D printed blood vessel networks, and the advancement that scientists have made over the last couple of years towards 3D printed organs really is remarkable, with working thyroid glands and ovariesbeing transplanted into mice, for example.

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3DHEALS 2017: 3D printing eliminates communication barriers in Healthcare

3DHEALS, according to the organizers, aims to “[foster] a global collaborative and innovative healthcare 3D printing ecosystem.” In a guest blog post for Print Your Mind 3D, 3DHEALS founder and CEO, Jenny Chen M.D., writes,  “The concept of creating physical objects based on digital data in a layer-by-layer fashion was quickly extended to bio-printing, where the raw material is bio-ink or stem cells. In a way, 3D printing represents an evolved form of human-computer interaction.”

The challenges, advantages, and benefits brought up by the attendees — the need for manual cleanup of digital data and the use of 3D printed models as a communication tool, to name but two — may sound oddly familiar to those in automotive, aerospace, and consumer goods.

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Research marks 3D printing as vital to pharma and medical device markets

The healthcare industry could benefit from the use of 3D printing technology to customise medical devices and drugs, market analyst Frost & Sullivan have said.

3D PrintingRecent research by the group’s TechVision  – 3D Printing for Healthcare Applications – has shown how a large number of markets have shown interest in adopting 3D printing in a drive towards more personalised medicine

More so, the research states how 3D printing can be merged with pharma practices such as continuous manufacturing (CM) to develop various dosage forms for a specific demographic. 3D printing can also be used to bring about a change in the structure of medication, making it easier for medication to be swallowed or dissolved.

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Healthcare must embrace the digital revolution

Integrating developments in advanced robotics, big data and 3D printing can help the health sector improve patient care and reduce costs.

Healthcare must embrace the digital revolutionThe rise of new digital technologies always inspires a wave of excitement and numerous predictions from healthcare experts about revolutionary changes that should be expected. For example, the first real use of 3D printing happened in 1999 and, since then, it has been heralded as a cost-cutting saviour for producing specialist medical equipment. It has even been predicted to be the solution to the challenge of organ transplant shortages. Clearly, the healthcare industry has much to gain from embracing new technology.

Those in the healthcare supply chain acknowledge the importance of new technologies, like advanced robotics, big data and 3D printing, in improving outcomes. In fact, in a recent survey1, 83% of respondents from healthcare and pharma said that big data was the most disruptive technology in the industry today, while 44% named advanced robotics as important to supply chain functions and 35% pointed to 3D printing as a significant disruptor.

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3D printing applications for Healthcare will transform medical devices and pharma industries

3D printing technology is the ideal solution for the healthcare industry’s need for the efficient production of complex and personalized products. A large number of market majors have shown deep interest in adopting 3D printing for its ability to customize drugs, active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and medical devices, driving an era of personalized medicine. The field that is most likely to be disrupted by 3D printing is pharmacy distribution of drugs because of the ease of obtaining customized dosage quantities of medication.

“Using 3D-printed tissues for drug testing, clinical trials and toxicity testing will have a huge impact in the pharmaceutical sector, as they will help eliminate costly animal testing and use of synthetic tissues,” noted Frost & Sullivan TechVision Research Analyst Madhumitha Rangesa. “However, traditional, large-scale manufacturing is still more economical for mass production of drugs; 3D printing will be viable for small-volume production in orphan diseases.”

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How 3-D printing could disrupt the healthcare supply chain

3-D printing, also known as “additive manufacturing,” has captured increasing mainstream interest, with new breakthroughs and applications being announced all the time. While it is revolutionizing the way certain products are manufactured, 3-D printing is poised to substantively benefit the production of medical devices and the healthcare supply chain overall.

In its 2016 trend report, logistics company DHL says 3-D printing can significantly lower complexity in manufacturing and holds numerous advantages over conventional production techniques.


Specific to healthcare, 3-D printing has been used in a variety of meaningful applications, such as in the production of prosthetic implants and limbs, as well as prosthetic dentistry. As healthcare strives to emphasize the individualization of care, Gartner estimates that by 2019, 3-D printing will be considered a critical tool in healthcare, being used in more than 35 percent of all surgical procedures requiring prosthetic and implant devices within and around the body. By then, Gartner also estimates that 10 percent of people in the developed world will be living with a 3-D-printed item on or in their body.

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Implications of 3D printing across the medtech value chain

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, already has begun to revolutionize how medical devices and other medical products are made, distributed, sold, and used. By printing layers of material on top of one another using a variety of materials, 3D printing allows for the manufacture of products whose forms are more fluid or organic, and whose structural integrity is the same as or greater, than traditional manufactured products.

According to a 2014 PwC survey, one-third of all manufacturers are adopting 3D printing. The medical device industry is no exception. Already, 3D-printed medical products such as customized implants, prosthetics, casts, teeth, and hearing aids are under development or commercially available. The FDA has approved or cleared more than 85 devices made using 3D printers. Where and how is 3D printing changing the medical device industry, and what does the future hold?

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