3D Printing at the bleeding edge of Medical Technology

The latest sector to start utilising 3D printing is the Medical industry. Not for tooling & medical instrument prototypes, but for prototypes of bones!

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3D Printing at the bleeding edge of Medical Technology


Rapid prototyping has several uses in the medical sector including making models of actual bones so that surgeons can practice complicated procedures or in leading edge stem cell research.

An example of this is the Walter Reed Army Medical centre that treats wounded soldiers in Iraq. They had a patient that had a bony tumour that needed to be removed from the back of the knee unfortunately this growth was dangerously close to a nerve and an artery making the procedure tricky. The orthopaedic surgeon that was carrying out the operation was able to “practice” on the model of the knee helping him avoid the nerve and artery during the actual surgery.

A CT or MRI scan can be transferred into a digital 3D model using specialist software. This information can then be sent to a 3D printer or service provider for production of the model. The surgeon can then use the 3D model to practice the procedure before he carries it out on the real patient.

An article recently published in New Scientist explains how an exact replica of a man’s thumb has been made for the first time using a 3D printer. A 3D image of the existing bones was first made, if the bone has been lost or destroyed a mirror image can be made of the surviving opposite side, this information is then sent to the 3D printer. In this case the medium used for the 3D printing was Tricalcium Phoshate mixed with a type of Polylactic acid (all natural structural materials found in the human body). The result is a bone “scaffold” that has thousands of tiny pores to which bone cells can settle and grow. Eventually the scaffold is replaced completely by the new growing cells.

The next stage for this breakthrough is to prove whether the implants are functional and that blood vessels grow when they have been implanted.

Medical_Application_1 Medical_x_ray

Both of these examples represent leading edge uses of 3D printing and the technology continues to move forward at a rapid rate. When will it be possible for us to be able to print out spare parts for ourselves?

I wonder how long it will be before they can do extensions.........




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