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3D printing allows for customization and personalization of medical implants. Currently doctors are able to implant 3D printed splints, bones and bladders. In the future organs such as kidneys will be printed for transplant.
Children benefit from 3D printed implants because they can be customized to the appropriate size for the child. Doctors at the University of Michigan used a laser-based 3D printer to create a trachael splint for an infant with a collapsed brochus which blocked the flow of air to the lungs. Using a CT Scan and the 3D printer the doctors were able to design and fabricate a custom splint for the individual patient. The printed device was bioresorbable. As the child grows the developing body with absorb the splint eliminating the need for future surgery.
Bones are fabricated on a 3D printer using a ceramic powder at Washington State University. Imaging of the patient allows doctors to fabricate a customized graft that can repair complex fractures.
A patient with a rare form of cancer that resulted in the loss of half of his pelvis was fitted with a replacement fabricated on a 3D printer. Standard methods of replacing the pelvis were not an option because not enough pelvis was left to attach to. Without the 3D printed pelvis the patient would have one leg unattached to his spine and been unable to walk.
A skull replacement has been conducted using a 3D printed replica that is biocompatible and bone like. The company that produced the implant, Oxford Performance Materials, estimates that 300-500 patients could have skull replacement surgeries each month in the US. The 3D printed skull patches have the advantage of being low cost and are customized to fit the patient.
Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine has used stem cells from a patient with a failing bladder to grow a new bladder that was successfully transplanted. Experimentation and testing is currently underway to 3D bio print a kidney using a patients own kidney tissues. The printed organ would be a perfect match and would eliminate waiting lists for organ transplants.
Advantages of 3D printed medical implants include low cost and ability to customize fit to the patient. The future ability to create printed organs would revolutionize transplants since patients often wait for years for a matching organ to become available.