10 Ways 3D Printing is Impacting Healthcare

Chuck W. Hull designed the first 3D printer in 1986, although others laid the foundations before him. Johannes F. Gottwald designed the first liquid metal-based idea for a 3D printer based on the inkjet design of the ’60s. Fast forward to 2023, and 3D printing is becoming increasingly high-tech, helping many industries improve their services and products. Moreover, 3D printing is now changing the healthcare landscape in ways unimaginable during Gottwald and Hull’s heyday.

1. Customized Surgical Procedures

Rady Children's Hospital–San Diego 3D Print Lab
Image Credit: Rady Children’s Hospital–San Diego.

Since 3D printing is an expensive process, hospitals are developing more in-house systems. One such system is Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, which creates 3D models that can mimic human tissue. Furthermore, 3D-printed models give surgeons an advantage when planning high-risk operations, such as brain surgery, minimizing time and patient discomfort.

2. Hearing Augmentation

Woman with hearing aid
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

A team at the Copenhagen Hearing and Balance Center in Denmark conducted a 2022 study on 3D printing’s efficacy in “patient-specific” medical assistance. Their findings revealed that 3D-printed outer ear interventions comprised 73% of all 3D-printing-related interventions. Moreover, other scientists have developed cochlear implants that have improved the lives of hearing-impaired persons.

3. Medication Scheduling

Prescription Pills and Medicine Medication Drugs spilling out of a bottle
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

We can now thank 3D-printing innovation for advances in medication, with the Polypill changing the game. Generally, anyone on a heavy medication schedule has to take doses throughout the day, often forgetting their medication. The 3D-printed Polypill gives all the doses in one segmented pill, and an Iranian study shows it was effective in a trial with Iranian villagers.

4. Dentistry

Male Dental Technician Working On A 3D Printed Mold For Tooth Implants In The Lab
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

A 2019 Additive Manufacturing report shows that 3D-printed products will account for a large share of dental revenues by 2028. Driven by fast-improving dental 3D technology, the dental industry could be a wise investment for anybody looking for a dazzling return. The report’s author, Scott Dunham, Vice President of Research at SmarTech Analysis, says, “We anticipate a future of dental care in which 3D printing technologies are at the center of the industry, producing the vast majority of dental devices and restorations.”

5. Implants

3D Printed Skull Implant
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of 3D printing technology is its advancement in implants that help movement in knees, hips, skulls, and spines. Using electron beam melting (EBM) technology, a Peking University Third Hospital team designed five synthetic vertebrae for a tumor patient, increasing the stability of his recovering spine.

6. Prosthetics

3D Printed Prosthetic
Image Credit: Romina Santarelli – CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Typically, a bionic limb costs $70,000 or more, meaning only the wealthy had access to these medical breakthroughs. In 2016, robotics experts Lyman Connor and Eduardo Salcedo created “Lyman’s Manomatic” prosthesis, using 3D printing to lower the cost of bionic limbs — products otherwise out of most consumers’ budgets.

7. Medical Device Design

Image Credit: Jack Lawrence – CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

There are dozens of 3D-printed inhalers on the market now for people suffering from respiratory illnesses. British company Coalesce Product Development is developing 3D-printed drug-delivery tools, including novel inhalation devices designed for better portability, use, and comfort.

8. Organ Replication

Image Credit: Philip Ezze – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

A 2022 report from the National Institute of Health detailed the efficacy of bioprinted human organs. It explains that additive manufacturing (AM) and solid free-form manufacturing (SFM) create “bioartificial organs” using automatic “layer-by-layer deposition methods” using a patient’s cells. The New York Times reported one notable story about 10-year-old Luke Massella’s successful transplant of a bio-printed bladder.

9. Fitted Casts

3D Printed Arm Cast
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The Mayo Clinic Florida is one of many operators now printing customized printed casts for broken bones. A press release explains how the traditional method for protecting limbs makes for an uncomfortable experience — keeping the cast dry in the shower is one example. Now, in 90 minutes, a scan of the limb creates the 3D map for a perfectly fitting cast that can be exposed to water.

10. Reference Models

3D printed skull bone
Image Credit: Mehr News Agency, CC BY 4.0/Wiki Commons.

One report from Northern Ireland shows how 3D printing helped a child with two unhealed bones in his forearm. His injuries rendered him unable to rotate his arm properly. Conventional CT scans and X-rays showed bone deformities that would require a long, arduous surgery to correct. However, after the surgeon printed a 3D model of the region, the child’s diagnosis changed, leading to a less severe intervention and fast recovery.


The Fugutive
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.


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