Some of the most incredible uses for 3D printing are developing within the medical field. Some of the following ways this futuristic technology is being developed for medical use might sound like a Michael Crichton novel, but are fast becoming reality.
While an entire organ has yet to be successfully printed for practical surgical use, scientists and researchers have successfully printed kidney cells, sheets of cardiac tissue that beat like a real heart and the foundations of a human liver, among many other organ tissues. While printing out an entire human organ for transplant may still be at least a decade away, medical researchers and scientists are well on their way to making this a reality.
Bone and Cartilage
Hod Lipson, a Cornell engineer, prototyped tissue bioprinting for cartilage within the past few years. Though Lipson has yet to bioprint a meniscus that can withstand the kind of pressure and pounding that a real one can, he and other engineers are well on their way to understanding how to apply these properties. Additionally, the same group from Germany who bioprinted stem cells is also working toward the same results for bioprinting bone and others parts of the skeletal system.
Just six months ago, bioengineering students from the University of British Columbia won a prestigious award for their engineering and 3D printing of a new and extremely effective type of surgical smoke evacuator. Other surgical tools that have been 3D printed include forceps, hemostats, scalpel handles and clamps – and best of all, they come out of the printer sterile and cost a tenth as much as the stainless steel equivalent.
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Heart and Blood Vessels
Another German institute has created blood vessels using artificial biological cells, a 3D inkjet printer and a laser to mold them into shape. Likewise, researchers at the University of Rostock in Germany, Harvard Medical Institute and the University of Sydney are developing methods of heart repair, or types of a heart patch, made with 3D printed cells.
There are plenty of other developments being made with 3D and bioprinting, but one of the biggest obstacles is finding software that is advanced or sophisticated enough to meet the challenge of creating the blueprint. While creating the blueprint for an ash tray, and subsequently producing it via 3D printing is a fairly simple and quick process, there is no equivalent for creating digital models of a liver or heart at this point.
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