3D Printing For Medical Applications
Using 3D printing for medical applications is the next step for surgeons.
Doctors can already view bones and organs in 2D and 3D. However, visualizing doesn’t provide the same information as a physical object. And manipulation on a computer with CAD (computer aided design) programs isn’t the same as holding and modifying a solid item.
The ability to have an actual replication of an organ, bone, or other internal body part before attempting a procedure helps the surgeon become familiar with that persons unique physiology.
This also reduces the chance for unexpected issues to arise after a surgery begins. Unlike dentistry where it’s possible to take impressions to replace teeth, surgeons face a challenge in organ transplants and bone replacement procedures.
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The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a successful procedure in which the larger liver of an adult was being transplanted into the smaller body cavity of a child. In this case, the doctors were able to use a MRI image to generate a computer file which in turn was used to replicate the liver out of plastic using 3D printing.
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Only a few of the 3D printing companies can translate files from medical imaging scans (e.g., CT and MRI) to a program which is compatible with a standard printer. And unlike personal, or industrial, printed objects it’s essential that an object created for medical applications have similar characteristics as the real organ. For a liver, this means mimicking the texture, wetness and density to that the 3D object reacts similarly to a surgeons’ knife. To accomplish this, the 3D printing for medical applications need to be able to use polyvinyl alcohol based materials rather than standard plastics.
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Unlike a home hobbyist 3D printer from a company like MakerBot which can cost a few $1,000, those for medical applications can easily cost $300,000 to $500,000. And the time to print an organ can be half a day rather than half an hour for simple industrial objects.
Perhaps in the future with biological printing, doctors will be able to create replacement organs at the push of a button with 3D printing. This is not so far off as researchers are already addressing issues with printing living tissue and embryonic stem cells. It’s anticipated that smaller, less complex replacement body parts will be available on demand with 3D printing within the next 15 years.
(Photo Credit -Wall Street Journal )
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