A new study of the potential for 3D printing in the healthcare industry predicts wide-ranging advancements and disruptions as the technology is adopted by more hospitals and manufacturers.
The report, published by Dr. Jason Chuen and Dr. Jasamine Coles-Black of Austin Health in Melbourne, Australia, outlines five key areas where 3D printing will likely have the biggest impact on healthcare.
Chuen, the director of vascular surgery at Austin Health and director of the hospital’s 3D medical printing laboratory, uses 3D-printed models of aortas to practice delicate surgeries.
“By using the model I can more easily assess that the stent is the right size and bends in exactly the right way when I deploy it,” said Dr. Chuen.
The five areas discussed in the report include:
1. Bioprinting and Tissue Engineering: Scientists are already building 3D-printed organoids to mimic human organs at a small scale, and the report predicts that eventually hospitals will be able to print human tissue structures that could eliminate the need for some transplants.
However, Chuen says that “Unless there is some breakthrough that enables us to keep the cells alive while we print them, then I think printing a full human organ will remain impossible. But where there is potential is in working out how to reliably build organoids or components that we could then bind together to make them function like an organ.”
2. Pharmacology: 3D printing of drugs could enable companies to create multi-drug capsules that release different compounds at different times. There is already a printed polypill that contains three different drugs for diabetes and hypertension patients.
3. Surgical Rehearsal: Using 3D printed models to prepare for surgeries is already in practice at some hospitals. While the modeling software and equipment can be expensive, for particularly complex surgeries this method of rehearsal can save valuable (and costly) time in the operating theater.
4. Customized Prosthetics: Again, there are already a number of companies and organizations creating custom-fit prosthetics for patients (and even for pets) around the world. This not only helps improve the fit and function of the prosthetic, but can also reduce the need for additional surgeries.
5. Distributed Production: Rather than inventory large stores of drugs, prosthetics, and other equipment, hospitals could potentially create items on demand and on site. This would significantly alter the healthcare supply chain, but the report says there are still concerns around quality control and regulatory compliance.
“That represents a huge shift and we have to work out how it could work. But if we get the regulation right then it will transform access to medical products,” Chuen said.
You can read the report in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Source: University of Melbourne