The role of 3D Printing and Imaging in Surgical Healthcare Sector

By Alex Tate

3D Printing and imaging has been there for use in many industries, however, its use in medical fields has only begun. Many experiments have been conducted, with regard to 3D printed and imaging, to see if it is viable in surgery or not. However, to successfully use 3D printing and imaging for healthcare requires perfection. It won’t take long to make this a trend in healthcare. Currently, 3D imaging is used for X-rays, CT scans, MRIs and ultrasounds.

There are a few applications focused on this task.  It can be used to replace human organ transplants, practice complex surgical procedures, and improve the lives of those who are dependent on prosthetic limbs in their everyday and create customized prosthetics and patient-specific models, and creating tissues. One great advantage is that it speeds up medical care. There will be no need to wait for organs (and if it is successful it can end human trafficking), and speed up surgical procedures.

Bioprinting Organs and Implants (Tissues and Plates too)

Bioprinting is one of the main types of 3D medical printing, in which a pipette layers living cells, or bio-ink, on top of one another to create artificial living tissues with the help of a computer. These tissues are the basis of organs and implants, which are created on miniature scale (and not exact human scale). Currently, this technology is used in trials to replace human organ transplants. These can be used to create patient-specific organs that are then used for practice before an actual operation by surgeons. This will make hip replacements easy, and cranial plates easy to replace as well. These tactics are good for teaching medical students about surgery, helping them practice and also prep for complicated surgeries, and has been used to reduce trauma after surgery for patients. This is becoming routine in many practices now, however, the research involved for this is still in its early stages of research and development and needs to be adjusted.

One-Time Use Tools, or Patient-Specific Tools

It can also cut down costs of surgical instruments, and one-time use tools. Sterile instruments such as scalpels, clamps, forceps and the like can be reproduced using 3D printers, which is more hygienic and cuts down costs in the long run as well. These can be adjusted to size as well, for children, or specific body types, which is probably their greatest benefit, and can cause less pain during long procedures or lasting effects. The cost is minimized too, and they can be discarded too, making the process more hygienic but increasing medical waste.

Prosthetic Limbs

Prosthetic limbs can be tailored made, and will take less time to obtain. Normally, amputees have to wait weeks or months for a prosthetic limb to make and place. 3D printing costs less and also leads to quicker processes of procuring a prosthetic leg or arm or hand. It has been noted that there are no deviations in functionality between manufactured limbs or those created through 3D printing. In fact there are more advantages of making 3D the norm for prosthetics. The price is a large factor, especially for children who outgrow their prosthetic limbs quickly, and require them for long-term to function. It is also identified that 3D printed prosthetics are likely to adjust directly to the patient.

How is this done?

Power bed fusion is the most common technology for 3D printing in healthcare, primarily because it amalgamates various materials, elements or compounds together to create fine layers for an image to finish printing. This technology allows for building 3D products using flimsy metal or plastic powder. A laser beam melts the powder to create an even look. The various layers of powder are added over one another to create an item. More plastic powder is added and melted. This process is repeated until completion.

Some people claim that 3D Printing Labs have overcome the larger segment of the 3D in healthcare debate. They also believe that 3D organs printing and the like are far-off dreams that require more years to be used regularly in surgeries, transplants and prosthetics. More and more hospitals have their own 3D printing labs for surgery, which trumps the belief that 3D requires far more work, and these printing labs are used regularly by healthcare professionals in six countries. According to one surgeon, the more time is spent in creating 3D anatomical models, the better it is for training, causing fatalities, and patients do not have to be open for too long in such an environment. There are a few clinical trials only working on this right now.

3D printing and imaging is being used extensively in healthcare now, and this industry will continue to bloom. The expected investment in this field crosses over billions of dollars in the next few years. However, there are certain concerns of hygiene, materials used in 3D printing, and that is why FDA has not approved the use of 3D in healthcare. If the trials underway prove to be successful, the Food and Drug Authority will revise their clearance process for 3D processes as well. It has proven to have more advantages than disadvantages like patient-specific models and prosthetics. In creating tissues and implants, customization is key, and surgeons say there is good surface integration between the artificial tissues and implants, but not all the way through. Of course, 3D printed organs and limbs are unnatural and researchers need to devise ways to make it more natural.

Another concern is that our cells hold their own memory in our bodies. Any alien item in our body would need time to adjust, and the cells would need to work around it to function the way they used to. The heart cells beat because they know they have to, our arms and legs move naturally when they have to. With implants and prosthetic limbs, our mind and body needs to work extra to ensure that they function as naturally and organically as possible. It is believed that once the process of 3D printing in healthcare is more naturalized, the overall process will also become easier and more natural.  This will require a lot of money, and will take time. We have progressed a long way in 3D printing today, but it hasn’t been perfected.

Author Bio:

Alex Tate is an expert health care marketing and consultant who specializes in promoting tools and resources so physicians can do better care. He is currently working with a privately owned company which helps physicians in accruing new or switching ehr vendors.  His ongoing collaboration with startups and academic research centers are paying the way for the development and commercialization of groundbreaking technologies like artificial intelligence, augmented reality and cutting-edge initiatives that are setting the standards for a future that offers the promise for evolving healthcare through technology in the world.