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How Doctors Can Use 3D Printing to Help Their Patients Recover Faster

Do you need a prosthetic, a serious surgery, numerous drugs for different treatments, or an organ for a pending transplant? If you fit in at least one of these categories, then 3D printing will change your life now or soon. 3D printing has brought speed of delivery, low cost manufacturing, mitigation of risk, easy access, customization, and sustainability among other benefits to the healthcare industry. Here is how doctors can use 3D printing to help their patients recover faster:

1. Customized Prosthetics

There is increased use of 3D printing in the manufacture of prosthetics that are custom-made for the needs of the patients. For instance, during hip replacement, surgeons cut and ream the bone of the patient to fit the prosthetic. However, it will be possible to 3D print a prosthetic to suit a patient in the future. 

2. Surgical Rehearsal

3D printing is helping surgeons rehearse operation procedures so that they can complete operations faster with little trauma for the patient. Moreover, this would assist to save the hospital operating expenses. This is especially because it costs approximately $1300 per hour to run a theatre. Doctors are already printing out copies of patient kidneys to assist surgeons to plan the removal of tumours in the kidneys. Thermoplastic polyurethane is an expensive flexible material that can be used to make these hard plastic models more realistic. 3D segmentation software can cost up to $13,000 per year or more while the soft plastic can cost up to $35. However, the costs associated with 3D printing cannot be compared to the high cost of running a theatre. Therefore, the benefits of 3D printing in surgical rehearsal outweigh the cost and dramatically improve workflow.

3. Pharmacology

Patients suffering from a variety of sicknesses like the elderly depend on consuming many pills on a daily basis. With 3D printing, it is possible to replace these numerous pills with one tablet. It can customise medicine to a particular patient who only has to take a single pill which caters for all the ailments. This means that the capsule will be made to consist of many drugs that will have different release times. 3D printing has been instrumental in the development of a polypill that consists of three various drugs, which help in the treatment of hypertension and diabetes. Possibly in the future, you will be getting a digital file comprising printing instructions from your doctor instead of a prescription. 

4. Tissue Engineering and Bioprinting

Shortly, 3D printing will make it possible to print human tissues that can perform similar essential functions to an organ. This will replace the requirement for particular transplants. 3D printing is already being used by scientists to build ‘organoids’ that resemble organ functions at a tiny scale for research. They are made using stem cells that under stimulation can grow into the functional unit of a specific organ like a kidney or liver. The challenge has been to scale up organoids so that they can boost an organ that is failing inside the body of the patient.

In this kind of ‘bioprinting’, there is the use of a computer-assisted pipette that uses cell cultures that have been suspended in a solution which is rich in nutrients. The cell cultures are then printed out in layers that are suspended in a gel. The gel prevents the cells from becoming a watery mess. The challenge is that once the cells are inside the gel, they can die in minutes. This is a challenge for large ‘organoids’ because the first cell layers will die before completion. But small ones can be made fast and put back into the nutrient solution. It will be possible to print a complete human organ when a technology that keeps the cells alive during printing is invented. However, efforts are being put into building various components separately that can then be formed into a full organ. 

5. Distributed Production

3D printing is showing potential in the localisation of production. Warehouses for storing prosthetics and packaged medicines will be useless because pharmacies and hospitals will be using digital files to print medicine and prosthetics on demand. For as long as hospitals have access to raw materials and the 3D printing technology in place, the workflow will be unaffected.

Conclusion

3D printing is already revolutionising the manufacturing industry and other industries. Through personalized prosthetics, tissue engineering, distributed production, and pharmacology, health care has become part of this revolution.

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