3D Printing and the Future of Medicine

Three-dimensional (3D) printing has made great strides in the past several years, particularly in the field of medicine. Surgeons, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals rely on this amazing technology to serve the immediate needs of their patients. Formally known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing uses layering capability to create a model of any shape or size. Using a digital model, medical manufacturers can layer complex shapes and structures such as the exact structure of human bones.

Besides producing immediate results, one of the main benefits of 3D printing in the medical field is that manufacturers can tailor the product to the patient. For example, a patient can receive a prosthetic leg created to fit him or her just right or a replacement organ that duplicates the function of the one surgeons had to remove.

3D Printing and Prescription Drugs

Until recently, executives in the pharmaceutical industry haven’t considered 3D printing for drugs the way same way that surgeons use it to create replacement limbs. After all, machines within the pharmaceutical industry current produce more than 1.6 million new pills every hour. While it would take a long time for 3D printing in the pharmaceutical industry to reach the same capacity, it could offer unique benefits the industry doesn’t currently enjoy. These include:

  • Personalize the prescription to the patient
  • Disguise taste of the drug
  • Change when and how the drug releases its active ingredients once inside the patient’s body, with an emphasis on faster relief
  • Change the shape or size of a drug to meet patient needs

The pharmaceutical giant Glaxo Smith Kline has recently produced an epilepsy drug called Spritam using 3D printing. Manufacturers of this drug simply could not achieve the same fast release capability through use of traditional methods. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is highly invested making the use of 3D printing of medicine a reality.

Replica of the Human Spine

At Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom, professors are using 3D printing technology to create realistic human spines and organ structures to train upcoming surgeons. The realistic representation allows the future surgeons to learn their techniques in a safe environment and make errors that don’t affect patients. The professors use foam for the inside of the model and then 3D print the harder cortical bone that goes on the outside. Typical teaching surgeries include bone tissue removal, treatment of trapped nerves, and laminectomies.

Employing 3D Printing in the Treatment of Cancer

At the Urology of Keck Medicine of USC, it can be exceptionally challenging for surgeons to locate cancer cells within a patient’s organs. Thanks to 3D printing technology, they can first create an exact replica of the organ and then use it as a guide to find the real cancerous cells. This helps to prevent unnecessary exploratory surgery and lessens the duration that a patient needs to be in surgery when it comes time to remove the cancer. It also helps doctors to create more accurate dosing for oral medications used to kill cancer cells.

As with other areas of technology, people are demanding better and more immediate answers for their serious healthcare concerns. 3D printing can help the entire industry keep up with the demand.