Technology has revolutionized the health care industry in ways that seem almost like the stuff of science fiction novels. No one would have thought just twenty short years ago that printers would someday be able to create reproductions of so many different things -- including body parts! Nonetheless, rapid prototyping, otherwise known as 3-D printing, has helped the health care industry make giant strides in keeping people keeping healthy and happy. Here are six ways that 3-D printing from places like EIGERlab is currently being used to improve the lives of those with certain medical conditions:
One of the major complaints of those who with replacement joints that have been created using traditional methods is that the joints are frequently uncomfortable. 3-D printing technology allows the surgeon to create replacement joints that are completely customized to the individual patient by scanning the knee and using a rapid prototyping device to create a joint replacement piece that fits perfectly. Patients use less bone this way and recovery time is significantly shorter.
Rapid prototype technology is also highly instrumental in the creation of dental implants, crowns, bridges, and even dentures. The traditional method involves taking a mold of the patient's mouth, but methods using rapid prototype only require a simple and painless digital scan of the area to create form fitting dental devices that fit perfectly.
Another device frequently thought to be cumbersome and uncomfortable is the standard hearing aid. Even when they are fitted by a skilled audiologist, hearing aids made using traditional methods don't fit the ear in the exact, precise way that those made with 3-D printers do, and many patients report that they dislike wearing them because they are so uncomfortable. Also, rapid prototyping devices can create new hearing aids within the course of several hours, while patients used to have to wait at least a week for them to be made using old-fashioned methods.
Just like joint replacement items and hearing aids, prosthetics have traditionally caused discomfort and sometimes even pain on the part of the patient. With 3-D printing, the surgeon can create an artificial limb that conforms exactly to the patient's remaining limb, meaning that it will fit much better than their counterparts of the past. Rapid prototyping has even been used to recreate 3/4 of a patient's skull.
Physicians who treat burn victims can now rely on 3-D printers to create fresh new skin cells! Traditional treatment methods have included harvesting skin cells from parts of the patient's body that wasn't effected by the fire, but in extreme cases where a substantial portion of the person's skin has been damaged by the fire, there simply isn't enough usable skin cells. Only a small patch of unburned skin is necessary for the formation of new skin cells using rapid prototype technology.
Models of Existing Organs
Surgeons can also use 3-D technology to create models of existing organs in individual patients, which allows them to develop a customized and extremely accurate surgical plan. Congenital heart disease is one of the common birth defects, and 3-D printing gives health care professionals a very effective tool in the fight against it. A 14-month old boy recently underwent successful heart surgery in which his physician studied a replica of his heart prior to surgery. Rapid prototyping is also being used in medical schools to provide students with realistic practice performing challenging procedures, and even skilled surgeons are using this technology when faced
At some future point, scientists may even be able to use 3-D printing technology to create new human organs and tissue.