Five Areas Where 3D Printing is Transforming Healthcare

The healthcare industry is fast being transformed thanks to 3D printing, and it’s mind-boggling to think of the reach it’s having.

Dollar projections alone are enough to make you pay attention. A recent report by Global
Markets Insights projected the market to zoom past $2.2 billion (U.S.) by 2024, noting that the growing technology will ultimately lower the risks and costs of complicated surgical procedures. Booming demand by medical equipment manufacturers will also drive the market skyward.

Beyond the money, though, think of the human factor. Gartner, the research firm, says that in two short years, 10 percent of the people in developed countries will have a 3D printed item in
or on their bodies. It also projects that a third of surgical procedures will utilize 3D prosthetic or implanted devices.

3D printing is playing a role in everything from tissue engineering to pharmacology. Some of the most interesting innovations both underway or on the horizon follow.

1. Tissue engineering. While scientists doubt we’ll ever be able to 3D print a full human organ, “organoids” that mimic them are being printed on a small scale. Some believe that it’s not far off before it’s possible to 3D print human tissue structures – eliminating the need for transplants.

2. Stem cells. This is another take on tissue engineering, playing off stem cells’ already amazing regenerative characteristics. Now they’re being bioprinted, which could lead to cells being printed directly on the human body.

3. Medical devices. Another emerging area involves embedding sensors during 3D printing into rehabilitation equipment, like leg braces. One area this will be helpful in supporting the
“aging in place” trend, in that it would allow medical professions the ability to better monitor the individual’s activity and identify troublesome areas. It enables more effective healing, instrumental for those intending to remain independent.

4. Complex implants. The technology also is ideal for orthopedic or dental implants, that may have intricate surfaces or design complexity. The material used, though, makes the array of possibilities even greater, though. A 3D printed human vertebrae was recently implanted in a
procedure at Peking University in China.

5. Pharmaceuticals. There’s already a 3D printed pill containing three different drugs for diabetes and high blood pressure. What’s anticipated is the ability to print capsules that consist of multiple drugs that are released at different times.

The costs of the printers, as well as of operating them – not to mention the time it can take to print an object – can be seen as a barrier to the technology’s widespread adoption by hospitals.

Still, the versatility, cost savings in surgical procedures and on-demand nature of many printed parts are helping to overcome such resistance.