3D printing may sound like something straight from a sci-fi movie, but it is gaining in popularity—and has recently been revealed to have groundbreaking and lifesaving uses in the world of medicine. In fact, it may not be hyperbole to refer to 3D printing as the true future of medicine.
What is 3D printing, anyway?
As the name implies, 3D printing involves creating a physical device from a three-dimensional digital model through a special printer. The final product is created by layering thousands of tiny layers upon one another in accordance with the digital model's instructions. The printer "ink" which forms these layers can be in liquid, powder, or paper form. While most 3D printed items are made of some type of polymer plastic, 3D printers can also produce items composed of metal, rubber, clay, porcelain, paper, plaster, and even food-grade materials.
Because the models are digitally created, a 3D printer has the unique ability to produce nearly any imaginable shape or form.
How can 3D printing be used in medicine?
Doctors and scientists continue to discover new uses for 3D printing. Here are some of the ways this technology has been used:
- Creation of functional prosthetic limbs
One man created a prosthetic hand for about $50.00 in materials - less than 0.1% of the cost of his $42,000 robotic hand. He later told a reporter that he actually preferred to use the $50.00 hand.
The ability to quickly and cheaply print prosthetic limbs has also proven very helpful in war zones, such as Sudan.
- Organ and bone implants
One woman received a 3D printed cranial implant after a large portion of her skull was surgically removed. Without this implant, she likely would have died. Another person received a cranial transplant after a motorcycle accident which caused tremendous brain swelling—the implant helped prevent permanent brain damage caused by the swelling brain pressing against his skull.
Doctors are now even able to 3D print organs. In one case, a 3D printed model of a child's heart alerted doctors that the child's issue was more severe than initially thought—if doctors had proceeded to surgery without discovering this, the child would have suffered serious problems.
3D printing exact copies of patients' organs allows surgeons to perform "practice" surgeries before making the first cut—helping identify and solve any complicating factors.
How could this impact jobs in the medical profession?
This convergence of technology and medicine means that there exists a wider variety of jobs in the medical field than ever before. In addition to physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, and medical technologists, there are now positions for computer scientists, programmers, and even engineers in the medical field.
Even if you're not naturally drawn to the thought of working in medicine, you may find that the advent of 3D printing has expanded your job opportunities in ways you might not have previously thought possible. Contact a company like SOS Healthcare Staffing to learn more.