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Printing Better Lives

How 3D Printing is Changing Medicine

July 20, 2017, Bruno Jacobsen

Last year, Czech scientists from a research group at Brno University of Technology developed a mechanical and computer model, with the aid of 3D printing, that allows them to simulate a variety of biological conditions, like asthma and other chronic afflictions. It can help us understand the diseases better, devise optimal treatment courses, and even help doctors practice surgeries with precision. How is 3D printing changing the world of medicine?

3D printing has many useful applications. From prototyping to making structures that are impossible to replicate through traditional subtractive manufacturing, this technology is already changing the world in many ways.

It's especially suited to make things that are one-off items, with very precise specifications. Think of car parts for cars that are no longer in the market, architectural structures, and even DIY items that you design and now want to bring to life. The same can be said of your teeth, nose, and hips.

So it's no wonder that the medical industry is following it closely, since the vast majority of our body parts differ from person to person, and replacing any of them might be, in the future, the major focus of many additive manufacturing (3D printing) companies.

We have already printed several body parts, even though they are not always functional for long and make use of different materials from those that make up ours. According to the Independent, as of earlier this year, 60 million ear moulds and hearing-aid shells had been passed to patients, with artificial teeth and other prosthetic parts being a primary use too.

But 3D printing's usefulness is not only in replacing body parts. While we may think that the possibility that any malfunctioning body part can be easily replaced by a customised 3D-printed part in the future is exciting, additive manufacturing can also help us solve other more complex problems.

One of them is in understanding and prescribing the best treatments for a whole range of diseases. Last year, Czech scientists from a research group at Brno University of Technology developed a mechanical and computer model, with the aid of 3D printing, that allows them to simulate a variety of biological conditions, like asthma and other chronic afflictions. 

This new 3D-printed lung is great if you are a patient. It can help doctors prepare for both surgical operations and treatment options. If a tumour develops in a certain location in a lung, doctors are able to simulate that through the model and devise the best ways to approach it during surgery, and possibly use it to practise and prepare for the surgery.

Doctors can also use this for treatments. "This model will show whether an inhaled drug will settle in the concrete areas where we need it to," the Head of Research told Reuters. Which suggests that doctors will be able to confirm the effectiveness of a certain treatment course before starting it, and adjust it if it can be improved.

Additive manufacturing may be only one of technologies that is changing the medical industry. We've already discussed how precision medicine and human-machine integration can have a deep impact in the industry with their several applications. But additive manufacturing is by no means an outlier and, who knows - soon enough, it could be instrumental in saving the lives of millions of people worldwide.

 

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