The 3D printed medical devices market is projected to grow to $1469.4 million by the end of 2026. 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object from a digital file. This process has revolutionized healthcare by cutting down on surgery time, developing custom devices to fit each individual patient, and ultimately creating innovative devices that help save lives. Originally used for hearing aids, arm prosthesis, and dental crowns, 3D printing is becoming used for so much more. Here are some ways that science is testing its capabilities to help medical patients live happier and longer.
Fertility: Medical 3D printing is entering the reproduction world to help women recover fertility. A recent study by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and McCormick School of Engineering showed that doctors can now imitate ovaries. The team of scientists at the schools removed the ovary from female mice and replaced it with a new 3D-printed version. This new printed ovary helped to better house immature eggs, increasing their survivability rate and boosting hormone production. The infertile mice were then able to ovulate and produce healthy babies.
Hearing: The affordability and innovations of 3D printing have allowed universities to incorporate it into their scientific achievements. Taking the advancements a step further from creating simple hearing aids, scientists at Princeton University have used 3D printing tools to develop a functional ear. They combined antenna electronics with tissue and developed a human ear that not only replicates human ability, but extends it far beyond the range of human capability. Although not completely finished, they expect to be able to connect the ear to a patient’s nerve endings much like a hearing aid and provide patients with a renewed sense of sound.
Feeling: Recently, human skin has been added to the list of endless possibilities provided by 3D printing. Scientists have mastered the ability to print skin which can augment human capabilities. These printed skin cells include hair follicles, sweat glands, and now heat detection. Engineers and researchers at Caltech and ETH Zurich have recently announced that they have incorporated the ability for artificial skin to detect temperature changes. This new breakthrough could pave the way to returning touch sensations to burn victims or amputees in the near-future.
3D printing has made major strides in the medical world. Although it is still fairly new, many researchers and scientists are working fast to make it a reality in the industry.