(Pocket-lint) - 3D printing is now offering everything from affordable prosthetics to replacement body parts. Discover the incredible and amazing ways that this new technology is changing lives for the better as we dive into the wonderful world of medical marvels.
Discover the incredible and amazing ways that this new technology is changing lives for the better as we dive into the wonderful world of medical marvels.
The Cyborg Beast Design
The cyborg beast is a project created with the intention of allowing the printing of low-cost prosthetics for underserved populations. In other words, they're making affordable prosthetics available to the masses. These 3D printed limbs are licensed under the Creative Commons-Attribution-Non-Commercial license and are essentially available for anyone to use. An impressive way to improve lives across the globe.
What you're seeing here is a fully personalised heart sensor. New 3D printing technology allows bioengineers to create realistic models of a patients heart that a stretchy sensor can then be built around. The result of this is a life-saving sensor that's a perfect fit the for the user, as everyone's organs are different.
This life-saving technology will help ensure people with delicate tickers get help right when they need it most.
3D printed blood vessels
Engineers are currently working on improving medical 3D printing technology to allow the mass printing of human organs for transplant. This work includes the creation of viable blood vessels that could be used in the human body. A recent breakthrough has even allowed Chinese scientists to successfully implant these vessels in monkeys.
These sorts of medical advancements could see the need for transplant waiting lists negated and people's lives being saved in much more cost-effective ways.
3D printing in the medical field isn't just limited to valves, vessels and body parts. One company is also using these techniques and technologies to create micro-tools capable of performing accurate and intricate surgery with less risk. These minuscule surgical instruments include forceps less than a millimetre in diameter and allow for the creation of a range of new tools to help surgeons operate safely on a daily basis.
3D printed heart valves
Heart disease is a problem that affects people from all ages and walks of life. A simple valve defect can be easily fatal if left untreated. Current treatment for adults involves the use of prosthetic valves, but these aren't suitable for everyone - especially not children.
In steps 3D printing, with the creation of precise bio-printing technology that allows the fabrication of living heart valves that are a perfect fit for the patient. This bio-printing system ensures doctors can create a patient-specific heart valve that's more likely to take and keep the user alive.
Complex surgical tools
Other companies are using 3D printing to create complex surgical tools too. Here, the Dragonflex Micro is a miniaturised tool designed to be reliable and precise even with components on such a small scale. Impressive that these tiny 3D printed tools are capable of saving lives.
3D printing is helping people on the outside too. The development of these sorts of exoskeletons helps disabled people by giving them support where they need it most.
This enables them to move in new and wonderful ways that their body would never normally allow. Children with congenital diseases are suddenly capable of moving around like their friends and joy is brought to their entire families via simple printed technology.
When an 83-year-old woman was faced with issues of a chronic bone infection and doctors believe that her age made reconstructive surgery too risky, they turned to 3D printing.
This newly printed jaw was the result. A complex model that needed to include joints for movement as well as cavities to encourage muscle attachment and the regrowth of veins and nerves, it was initially a tough design. The result, however, was a success and the woman was able to leave the hospital just four days after the operation with a new jaw intact.
Real bone from a 3D printer
After a CT-scan of a patient, biomedical engineers print a perfect fit replacement to repair or replace broken bones or problem areas. This 3D printing is slightly different from others on our list as it makes use of printing in calcium phosphate - the main constituent of natural bone.
Once the 3D printed material is grafted to the patients own bone, the two natural materials bond together and "unify" over the coming months. CT-Bone gives the best fit and best results in this sort of application.
Flexible bone implants
Also referred to as "hyperelastic bone" this newly developed technology is basically a kind of 3D printed ink that can be used to form flexible bone implants in any shape, size or form. These new implants are embraced by the body and due to their flexibility, they also allow for infiltration of blood vessels and slowly turn into natural bone within the body.
Scientists at Princeton University successfully created the first functional 3D printed ear that's capable of hearing frequencies beyond that of the average human ear. These are the beginnings of the future of bionic ears. They represent not only possible replacements for those in need but perhaps the future of augmented human beings.
Traditionally skin grafts are taken from other parts of a patients body to help replace burnt, damaged or diseased skin elsewhere. This practice may soon be a thing of the past as scientists have managed to print living tissue that could feasibly be used as a replacement where necessary.
So far they've managed to print and grow ear, bone and muscle structures into fully functional tissues that include blood vessels too. The aim is to be able to grow replacement tissue and organs to help deal with medical shortages and save lives across the world.
Advancements in stem cell research mean that we're reaching a point where it's nearly possible to load living cells into a capable machine to 3D print tissues, organs and more. All of which are capable of being used effectively inside the human body.
Medical researchers have successfully designed a printer that's capable of printing kidney cells into a three-dimensional kidney prototype. Although still in early stages, this technology could mean that in future doctors will be able to use patient data from CT scans to create computer models of their organs and print perfect replicas.
3D printed teeth
If you're worried about losing teeth, you might not need to worry much longer. Soon dentists might be able to print you a replacement. The news gets better too as this 3D printing tooth technology makes use of antimicrobial plastics which fight off bacteria and help improve oral hygiene.
3D printed medication
3D printing isn't limited to new body parts and skin cells, it's also being used in the creation of medication. This epilepsy drug is being mass-produced using 3D printers in a way that allows easier swallowing for those who need it. Over time, 3D printing will likely lead to a reduction in the production costs of medication and hopefully, a reduced cost to the end-user too.
Facial reconstruction surgery is often complicated as patients will have to deal with issues of tissue rejection and a lifetime of immunosuppressive therapies to prevent the new bone being rejected. Biomedical engineers are getting around this issue with 3D printing of replacement noses to help those in desperate need of reconstructive surgery. This technique is not only more successful, but allows a better fit for the patient as the printing can create a nose that's a shape for them.
Traditional treatment for deep burns is to cover them with healthy skin from other parts of the body, but where extensive burns cover the whole body there often isn't a viable solution.
Scientists have broken new ground with technology that's capable of printing skin cells to help in situations like this. This printing also takes into account the fact that different kinds of skin cells are used at different depths, so the deeper the burns the more the printed skin needs to change to cope. Stem cells are also being used here to help with the healing of wounds and speed up the recovery process.
What you're looking at here might be the start of 3D printed prescription lenses, though it's certainly in its early stages. Although these printers are capable of printing lenses, there is still a lot of work that needs to be carried out in the form of polishing and sanding to make the lens usable. Still, it's yet another impressive use of 3D printing that we're excited to see progress.
Medical models to help surgeons
3D bio-printing techniques are also applied to the creation of replica body parts that can be used in the training of new surgeons. Something like heart surgery, especially on children, can be extremely difficult, delicate and intricate. Being able to practice is an important part of successful surgery and so this 3D printing of test organs will help save lives before surgery even begins.
A college student, low on cash but not lacking in ideas used 3D printing technology to create his own orthodontic braces after scanning his teeth, making and casting moulds and more. Impressive work that resulted in much straighter teeth for the young man.
3D printed skulls
A young woman from the Netherlands suffered from a chronic bone disorder which led to an increase in the thickness of her skull resulting in painful headaches and issues with her eyesight.
Surgeons used 3D printing techniques to create a replacement skull which was successfully implanted in her head effectively saving her life while also restoring her sight eliminating the headaches too.
Advanced wound care
A medical research and development team in Finland have used nano-structure cellulose to make 3D printed smart dressings that not only heal but also monitor skin wounds. These smart dressings provide essential data on patient recovery to medical practitioners to help aid with patient care.
Not Impossible Labs mission is to create and provide low-cost solution for the most vulnerable on our planet. Here, Project Daniel was a simple, yet life-changing mission to improve a young man's life. Daniel is a Sudanese boy whose arms were blown off during a bombing, the Not Impossible Labs team went to help build prosthetic arms and make his life better.
Limbitless Solutions has set out to change the world by not just creating bionic and 3D printed arms and limbs for children, but also by teaching those children about how science can help change the world for the better. Limbitless is a project that even Robert Downey Jr has been involved with and they're doing great work with young people across the globe.
The first 3D printed mechanical hand
This is Liam, the first boy in the world to receive a 3D printed prosthetic hand. This hand and others like it have been created by the e-NABLE Community - people from all over the world who are using 3D printers to create free 3D printed hands and arms for those who need it.
Superhero themed prosthetics
Open Bionics are creating a new generation of bionic prosthetics with superhero themes including Star Wars, Iron Man, Frozen and more. These designs allow children to wear their new limbs with pride and not have to feel ashamed or embarrassed by something that's meant to help them in their daily lives. A wonderfully simple idea that's thrilling younger generations.
EXO prosthetic legs
The creator behind these prosthetic legs is determined to drive down costs and reduce the expense associated with them. Using a variety of 3D scanning, printing and modelling technologies, these 3D printed legs are created using laser-sintered titanium making them light-weight and far cheaper than traditional models. Plus they look awesome too.
This is a project aimed at creating covers for leg prosthesis to add a bit of style and flair to an otherwise uninspiring but necessary medical appendage. The unique covers are created to express the lifestyle and character of the owner while maintaining the form of a natural human leg. So they can stand out when they need to, but look natural when they don't.
Prosthetics for animals
Furry and feathered creatures need help too. As well as helping humans, the e-NABLE Community is also creating prosthetics for animals and creatures of all shapes and sizes. These simple 3D printings help bring happiness back into the lives of creatures everywhere.
Researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands have 3D printed microscopic objects designed to mimic and allow the study of microswimmers.
The study is designed to help scientists analyse naturally occurring organisms like white blood cells, bacteria, sperm and more - monitoring how they move.
The research could lead to medical advancements in the future as well - for example in the field of drug delivery.
A cast that helps you heal
In 2014, designer Deniz Karasahin created this brilliant concept of a new cast for broken limbs that not only looks awesome but also helps the healing process.
The 3D printed cast included a low-intensity pulsed ultrasound system that was designed to help damaged bones to heal faster - as much as 38 per cent faster in fact.
3D kidney models
In 2018, Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust used pioneering 3D printing technology in order to save the life of a small three-year-old boy.
Dexter Clark, was born with a severe kidney condition. His Dad's kidney was thought to be the answer, but surgeons needed to be sure before carrying out the transplant procedure.
The result was this 3D printing which would allow the team to better assess the complexities of the surgery and work out whether it would fit into Dexter's body.
The transplant registrar at the time, Mr Pankaj Chandak said that "The 3D models helped us appreciate aspects such as depth perception and space within the child’s abdomen, which can often be difficult to determine when looking at conventional imaging...The flexible materials also allowed us to better mimic the flexibility of organs within the abdomen in real life."
Another superb use of 3D printing in the medical space is the printing of parts that can be used to repair damaged skulls.