In the past, the use of 3D printers was somehow limited to creating scale models in engineering and related fields. You do not really see these printers much in other fields because of their prohibitive costs. However, advancements in this printing technology have developed in such a way that there are now 3D printers that cost a lot cheaply than they used to. The price of these machines has placed them within the reach of wider audiences.
Included in these audiences are practitioners in the medical field. The availability of 3D printers has become invaluable for doctors because these machines help them do their jobs with a higher degree of precision. These machines make them more able to treat their patients and save lives.
How are 3D printers helpful in the medical field? Here are three examples of how they are used in medicine.
1. Surgery. The use of 3D printing in surgery has paved the way for more accuracy in complicated operations, with a greater degree of success. For example, if a surgeon needs to remove a tumor from a patient but there is a huge chance that he or she will hit a nerve or an artery in doing so, the surgeon can create a 3D model of the tumor from the patient’s CT scans using a 3D printer. The surgeon can then practice on the model before working on the patient. In this way, the surgeon will be able to make the necessary incisions with confidence. The possible harm or side effects of the surgery can also be avoided.
2. Facial reconstructive surgery. When a patient has suffered considerable damage to his or her facial features, reconstructive surgeons now make use of 3D printers to create models out of which the prosthetics or the artificial skin will be made. What reconstructive surgeons do is to create a map of the patient’s face on special software and using images taken with a 3D camera. From this facial mask, the surgeons will make a mask that will then guide them in conducting the reconstructive surgery. Mapping the face of the patient in this manner ensures a more accurate reconstruction of the face.
3. Tissue and organ engineering. Researchers involved in tissue engineering and artificial organ construction have now turned to 3D printers to synthesize entire tissues and organs. Bioengineers do this by creating scaffolds that will support the living cells they will generate. The scaffolds are made on machines that work using inkjet technology or fused deposition modeling. According to researchers, 3D printing will make organ transplants easier because organs and tissues can be generated on demand. It can also lessen organ rejection among patients because the living cells used in engineering these organs can be harvested from the patient’s body itself.
The use of 3D printers outside the fields of engineering may sound like something out of a science fiction story. But life has a way of imitating art, and soon enough we may be able to use 3D printers at home for even small medical emergencies and first aid.
This Article is written by John C Arkin.
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