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3D printing, often associated with additive manufacturing and more industrial environments, is becoming another capital asset at facilities that can truly benefit from it: hospitals.

A 3D printer inside a hospital is not just making things. It’s enhancing lives with a myriad of applications from fabricating simple parts to be used in facilities, to creating actual prosthetics that are used as limbs and body parts to help those without them.

A lifelike medical model of a human liver printed on a Stratasys J750 3D printer.

At Kasturba Hospital in Manipal, India, a new 3D printing facility within their Orthopedics Department is now able to fabricate artificial limbs. In fact, the hospital recently produced artificial limbs for two children with deformities.

Examples of 3D printing in hospitals are sprouting up everywhere. At a VA hospital in American Lake, Washington, a patient who had his thumb amputated as a result of a household accident was able to have an orthotic thumb 3D printed – at his bedside.

3D printers are not just being used for prosthetics or orthotics. They’re also being used to assist surgeons. Because digital data allows modeling of the most precise forms, 3D printers may be used to help medical professionals prepare for difficult surgeries.

At North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, a 3D printing lab awaits requests from New York State’s 23 different hospitals. These requests could include creating an exact replica of a patient’s bone to aid surgeons in preparation for complex surgeries to know and understand the precise contours of that patient so they may perform a better surgery.

Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock is following the same path. They recently established a 3D printing center, funded by a large donor contribution. The center prints color coded models of children’s hearts, complete and lifelike with all the components of the actual child’s heart. Cardiologists can hold them and feel them, viewing their many different components, as a means of familiarity to better treat children’s cardiology needs.

In fact, 3D printing of medical devices, which runs a gamut of applications, is poised to be a healthy futuristic market. Researcher Fact.MR forecasts the market of 3D printing for medical devices and medical needs to exceed US$ 1,700 million in revenues by the end of 2022. They believe that, “in terms of revenues, implants are anticipated to remain the largest application of 3D printing medical devices, followed by tissue engineering.”

According to Fact.MR,  tissue engineering, whereby a 3D printer actually fabricates tissues and weaves used in humans, is the most lucrative in terms of revenues, followed by implants.

Depending on which research firm you listen to, the prospect of 3D printing for the medical community is even more lucrative than what Fact.mr posits. Allied Market Research reported that 3D printing for medical devices will be a $2.3 billion industry by 2020.

Last year, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. trumpeted the merits of 3D printing as a disruptive technology that is changing medicine for the good. He described advances in 3D printing and its application as we now know it as only the “tip of the iceberg.”

In a 2017 statement he said: “The FDA has reviewed more than 100 devices currently on the market that were manufactured on 3D printers. These include patient-matched devices tailored to fit a patient’s anatomy. Examples include knee replacements and implants designed to fit like a missing puzzle piece into a patient’s skull for facial reconstruction. We also approved the first drug produced on a 3D printer, which is used to treat seizures and has a more porous matrix than the drug manufactured in the traditional way, enabling the drug to dissolve more rapidly in the mouth to work faster. This is likely just the tip of the iceberg given the exponential growth of innovative research in this field. We envision that burn patients in the near future will be treated with their own new skin cells that are 3D printed directly onto their burn wounds. Further down the road, there is the potential for this same technology to eventually be used to develop replacement organs.”

For hospitals, physicians, patients and medical professionals everywhere throughout the world may follow the words of FDA Commissioner Gottlieb who aptly stated last year: “3D printing is certain to alter the daily practice of medicine where patients will be treated with medical products manufactured specifically for them.”

Learn more about 3D printing’s medical applications here

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