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Five Examples of 3-D Printing Changing the MedTech World

Still need proof that 3-D printing will revolutionize the medical industry? Take look at some recent innovations and advancements enabled by 3-D printing.

Thomas Klein

3-D Printing Face Implants for Accident Victims

The British Morriston Hospital announced that a team of surgeons was able to reconstruct the face of Stephen Power in an eight-hour operation using 3-D printing technology. Power’s face was disfigured when he broke his cheek bones, both eye sockets and his upper jaw in a devastating and disfiguring motorcycle accident. Reconstructive surgery was very difficult, because the ophthalmologists were afraid that his eye might be damaged. But 3-D printing enabled a path forward.

During several months of planning, the surgical team created 3-D images of Power’s face and printed 3-D models of his face. Finally, they produced medical-grade titanium implants with a 3-D printer. “Without this advanced technology, it’s freehand. You have to guess where everything goes," according to surgeon Adrian Sugar. "The technology allows us to be far more precise and get a better result for the patient."

 3-D Printing Pelvic Implants for Cancer Patients

Last month, the Telegraph told the story of an unnamed patient whose pelvis had to be partly removed to stop the spread of a rare form of bone cancer. "Standard implants do not always fit well, and in this case, so much bone needed removing that nothing would have been left to which an implant could have been attached," according to the Telegraph

Physicians from Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospital NHS Trust were able to improve quality of life for the patient, however, with a tailor-made implant produced using a 3-D printer. Using scans to assess how much bone would be removed, the team created a custom implant by 3-D printing layers of titanium powder joined by a laser. The titanium pelvic implant was then coated with a mineral to promote bone in-growth; a conventonal hip replacement was then affixed to the implant.

3-D Printing Prostheses for Victims of War-Torn Areas

Sadly, the demand for artificial limbs is high in war-ridden Sudan. To address this need, the Not Impossible Foundation has set up a 3-D printing lab in the Nuba mountains of the country to produce prostheses with the limited resources available. According to Plastics Today, the crowd-funded project was started by Mick Ebeling to improve the living conditions of patients like Daniel who was able to eat by himself for the first time in two years after he received two artificial arms. The project has trained locals to use the technologies after the team leaves the area.

3-D Printing a Smartphone StethoscopeAccording to the Makerbot blog, Suman Mulumudi, a 15-year-old from Seattle, started the company Stratoscientific with his father, who works as cardiologist. The teenager developed and printed a smartphone case that converts a phone into a stethoscope. The device gathers the low-frequency sounds of the heartbeat and sends them to the microphone of the mobile phone. The associated app processes the data and sends it via Internet to a doctor for evaluation. The patent for the technology is pending and they are looking for FDA approval of the device.

3-D Printing Data Sharing

More than many other manufacturing technologies, 3-D printing relies on data. In order to print an object, you need a digital model. This can be hard to generate, though, especially if the model has to meet scientific requirements. Therefore, the U.S. National Institutes of Health will start the NIH 3D Print Exchange platform. The online portal is aimed to be an open-source database of scientific 3-D digital models of biomedical structures, where researchers can share and download 3-D data. Since it provides free access to potentially thousands of 3-D models, the website might accelerate the use of 3-D printers in medical research and practice.

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