The three-dimensional (3D) medical printing and bioprinting industry is evolving at a rapid pace as 3D printers continue to move beyond research labs into commercial manufacturing facilities and hospitals. The printers are being used to create anatomical models, customized implants and even body parts that help treat, manage and prevent complex illnesses and injuries. The technology has contributed to the success several challenging surgical interventions in the recent times.
Three-dimensional Printing SystemsWhile scientists are using 3D printers for a variety of purposes, most physicians are relying on them to create patient-specific models of targeted organs and tissues. Healthcare professionals obtain accurate dimensions of the patient’s body parts from radiological images and feed the information into a computer to print exact replicas of the organs. These models help the surgeons assess the abnormality with precision and practice the surgery before the actual procedure.
Several consumer-friendly 3D printing systems have been created to meet these needs. Belgium-based Materialise offers Mimics inPrint system that allows physicians to directly import patient images from hospital PACS and use them for 3D printing. The product comes with DICOM compatibility that supports all types of imaging machines. The semi-automated segmentation and editing tools within the printer’s software system ensure error-free printing and enhanced communication. Materialise sets up the entire system and trains the hospital staff to operate it efficiently.
Stratasys Inc. also offers additive printing technology to hospitals across the globe. It has the widest variety of materials ranging from clear, rubberlike and biocompatible photopolymers to rigid and flexible composite materials in over 360,000 colors. The Medical Innovation Series from Stratsys has been created for physicians, medical device designers, clinical educators and other professionals in the healthcare industry.
Success StoriesTwelve National Health System (NHS) hospitals in the United Kingdom are relying on Stratsys printers to create models that allow surgeons to analyze patients’ condition, test implants and practice surgical interventions for better outcomes. Most popular 3D models at NHS hospitals include jaw bones for facial reconstruction surgeries, hip models for hip replacements, forearms for repairing deformed bones, and cranial plastics for fixing holes in a person’s skull.
Doctors Without Borders, the Italian humanitarian organization, is also using 3D printed replicas of hospital models to setup new ventures in remote areas of the world. The technology allows physicians to have a realistic experience and thereby, improve patient care.
Several other healthcare facilities are also using additive printing technology for increased efficiency. Physicians at Hong Kong’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital used 3D printing technology to help a 77-year-old woman suffering from two damaged valves. The patient had already undergone three open heart surgeries and needed a complex fourth intervention. The 3D printed model helped the doctors complete the surgery in just four hours. In another case, surgeons at Children’s Hospital in Colorado and engineers at Mighty Oak Medical created a 3D model of a patient’s spine to rehearse the surgery. The physicians also used additive printing technology to print customized brackets to treat the patient’s scoliosis.
These success stories are inspiring other hospitals to install 3D printers at their facilities. They would, however, require expertise to handle the printer and tools to eventually use the 3D model for clinical purposes. Several facilities are incorporating 3D printing training programs to build knowledge within the institution and to lower the lead times for the actual procedure. While the initial investment may appear significant, most experts agree that 3D printing technology can be a game changer as it can help physicians improve clinical outcomes and reduce costs associated with complicated surgical interventions.