How 3D Printing Is Changing Healthcare


Between annoying robo calls, family fights over screen time and the nagging soreness of tech neck, it sometimes seems like technology is doing us more harm than good. In the medical world, however, technology has helped innovators, physicians and researchers make advancements in healthcare that people decades ago -- or even a few short years ago -- wouldn't have believed possible.

One example is 3D printing, which has provided plenty of opportunities for physicians to make tremendous strides in a variety of fields.

“The application of 3D printing has really picked up the pace in the past five to ten years,” says Eric Myers, product designer and technical director of 3D printing at the Henry Ford Innovation Institute.

With applications in cardiology, orthopedics, urology, oncology and beyond, it’s easy to see why. Here, Myers outlines four primary applications of 3D printing and how he expects the technology to improve in the near future.

Applications of 3D Printing

  1. Patient-Specific Instrumentation. Although medical treatments and procedures are often repetitive, everyone’s anatomy is different. So when surgical intervention is necessary (for a knee or hip replacement, for example) physicians can create one-of-a-kind 3D printed tools to match the angles, contours and other aspects of an individual’s body. This can help minimize risks during surgery and, in some cases, make the process more effective.
  2. Surgical Planning. Just as 3D printed tools can help streamline the surgical process, anatomically accurate models of a patient’s body can help surgeons determine how to intervene with greater precision. For example, instead of using an X-Ray or CT scan to determine the process for an organ transplant, physicians can create a 3D model of an individual patient’s organ and use it to prepare for each transplant individually.
  3. Customized Implants. From bio-printing tissue to vertebrae to complete bones, 3D printed implants have improved the lives of hundreds. To date, though, one of the most common applications of implants is in oral surgery where creating custom orthodontic devices and implants to replace teeth and even jawbones have become incredibly common.
  4. Prosthetics. In the past, outfitting a patient for a prosthetic was often a long and expensive process. With 3D printing, physicians and patients can work together to build a prosthetic that is more comfortable and form-fitting. Additionally, athletes have used 3D printing to build safety equipment such as custom face masks for basketball players or shoes and inserts for runners.

At present, physicians and surgeons are still determining the best uses of 3D printing in the field of medicine, but what’s been achieved so far has been promising. Aside from the applications mentioned above, some labs have produced 3D printed implants made from materials like titanium and calcium phosphate while others have begun making organ-like structures from “bioinks” consisting of organ cells.

“Right now, we can make any shape possible, but the material we use is where we’re going to see a lot of innovation,” Myers says. “But overall, the 3D printing trend is one that’s definitely going to continue for surgeons and other doctors.”

Learn more about research and innovation at Henry Ford Health.

Eric Myers is product designer and technical director of 3D printing at the Henry Ford Innovation Institute.

Categories: FeelWell