There are abundant business and economic benefits of 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing across a range of sectors. Of those sectors that is expected to benefit majorly is the medical and health care sector. The heath care sector represents one of the strongest vertical markets for industrial 3D printing (3D Printing) / additive manufacturing (AM). Whether used as supporting tools for the manufacture of personalized products or enabling supply chain compression and cost reduction, 3D Printing is the sole answer to the ever increasing demand for better healthcare facilities in the western economies as well as the developing nations.
The most exciting future opportunities of 3D Printing boom comes from the emergence of digital healthcare, wherein patients are benefiting from ultra modern scanners and diagnostic processes like CT scan , MRI scan, 3D ultra sound and intraoral laser scanning. These personalized data are providing the blue prints for the futuristic 3D printing healthcare solutions from hip and knee implants to dental crowns, from hearing aids to prosthetic limbs, orthotic footwear and prescription eye-glasses.
Here we will discuss a few of the 3D printing healthcare solutions.
The most dominant problem with men over 50years of age or of people who are above 75 years of age is joint disorders. There are various types of joint disorders and Osteoarthritis is the most common of the lot.
Arthritis is another wide spread joint disorder which has a few treatments that are available in the market to relieve the symptoms of arthritis. Since there is no known cure for this, people who suffer from severe arthritis problem in the due course of time require joint replacement.
Scientists are trying to develop a cartilage for all those suffering from these problems with the help of 3D Printing. This effort will considerably reduce the problems of millions who suffer from this chronic ailment.
The other remarkable contribution of 3D Printing is to people who are physically handicapped; especially it gives alternative options to those who were born without limbs or had lost arms or legs. The more expensive solution to this problem would be prosthetic limbs and arms. But now thanks to 3D Printing prosthetic limbs are becoming affordable and more functional than ever before.
Various organizations are mushrooming throughout the world that enables people to get on with their lives with the help of 3D Printing prosthetic limbs and arms. One of such organization is E-NABLE, which helped Jose, 53years to develop a prosthetic left hand; which he never had since he was born. Jose had used numerous prosthetic devices for many years. The prosthetics that Jose used earlier were very expensive something like $42,000 while this one was for less than $50. Same was the case with Sydney Kenadall who had lost her right arm when she was 6years in a boating accident. Her prayers were answered by three biomedical engineering students at Washington University; who found a way to 3D print prosthetic arm for as minimal as $200. Sydney and Jose; both had used prosthetic arms earlier they found the arms to be very restrictive as well very pricey as compared to their new 3D print prosthetic arms. 3D Printing arms are great relief for all those parents whose children use prosthetic arms and limbs. The price of prosthetic arms and limbs is not less for children it’s the same as that of adults. Since children grow really fast the limbs and arms too had to be modifies with time. This was a big concern for all the parents who had a budget to take care of. But not anymore; with the 3D Printing prosthetic arms and limbs; they can facilitate their children with their requirement as well as take care of their budget. This is just another feather in the cap of 3D Printing industry. There are many such people who have found an answer to their problems with the help of this machine.
The success of 3D Printing innovations do not end here, this is merely the starting! A research organization known as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO); along with the Australian dental company known as the Oventus; have used 3D printing to make a mouthpiece for patients who are suffering from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person can stop breathing repeatedly while sleeping. This disorder can have long term problems like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and depression if proper treatment is not taken. This mouthpiece will be available for the people by 2015.
Earlier patients with sleep apnea used Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines that blew air through the nose. Other alternative was a mouthpiece that pushed the jaw forward to keep the airway open and shockwaves therapy was used to relax the nerves in the tongue. But not with the new 3D Printing mouthpieces all these problems will have one easy solution. The working of this mouthpiece is very simple. A map of the patients’ mouth is created with the help of 3D Printing scanner. This scanned image is then printed in titanium built mouthpiece that has a coating of medical grade plastic. This mouthpiece includes a duckbill that extends from the wearer’s mouth. This duckbill creates airways to allow air to flow in without any obstruction in the nose, back of the mouth, and tongue by moving through the back of the wearer’s throat.
The other significant progress made in the medical and healthcare industry is that of implants and regrowing human tissues. Very soon 3D Printing will be able to make organs and arteries for transplants. This has been possible because of Prof. Jordan Miller of the Rice University. By his method once the print button is pressed the printer builds the digital file of the organ layer by layer into a physical object, using a filament that is controlled by a small tube that is made of sugar so that in the due course of time it might dissolve. The difference between his printer and other printers is that most printers use a form of plastic rather than sugar.
But for Australians this dream is indeed on the verge of turning into reality; i.e. of being able to implant 3D printed body parts. In fact, two Australian universities are now offering masters degrees in this practice, known as bio-fabrication. For patients like Eliza Whiteside who found that she has breast cancer at the age of 28years and got both her breasts removed as a precautionary step. She tried silicon transplant but as it turn out in most cases it did not suite her and she had to get it removed. Now with this technology of 3D Printing she feels positive of getting her life back. Scientists print custom made scaffolds using bio ink and the patient’s cell to regrow human tissue. For patients like Eliza, her breast tissue would grow around the implanted scaffolds which would dissolve in the due course of time and the breasts would thrive naturally.
Similar revolutionary steps are being taken by the University of Wollongong which provides world’s first international masters in bio-fabrication. This university brings four universities which expertise in bio-fabrication. These four universities are UOW, Queensland University of Technology, Germany’s University of Wurzburg and the University Medical Centre Utrecht, in the Netherlands. These universities will admit 10students a year who will append around nine or twelve months learning abroad the intricacies of bio-fabrications. This degree is expected to open this year.
The possibilities of 3D printing are endless and the power of 3D Printing is going to open up a myriad of opportunities in the health care segment!