East West Manufacturing Blog

3D Printing in Medicine: 10 Game-Changing Applications

Written by Mary-Kerstin Hassiotis | December 29, 2015

3D printing is quickly revolutionizing the medical industry – impacting surgical advances, possibilities for the disabled, and even pharmaceuticals. Below you can check out 10 game-changing applications that are doing their part to shed light on the benefits of 3D printing in medicine.

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1. Prosthetics

for humans... 

A company called e-NABLE is leading the way in 3D printed prostethics for children around the world. According to their site, "the e-NABLE Community is an amazing group of individuals from all over the world who are using their 3D printers to create free 3D printed hands and arms for those in need of an upper limb assistive device."

... and for animals

A start-up called Pawsthetics is raising funds to continue creating custom 3D printed prosthetics and devices to help disabled animals become ambulatory once again. Take Turbo the puppy, for instance (if you can you handle the cuteness). You can donate to Pawsthetics' Indiegogo campaign here.

2. Drugs

The first FDA-approved, 3D printed drug was announced on August 3, 2015. The epilepsy medication, called SPRITAM, was developed by Aprecia Phramaceuticals. Read more in this Forbes article.

3. Medical Equipment

The stethoscope above looks like any other stethoscope, doesn't it? Nothing crazy to see here. Except that this stethoscope is a product of 3D printing, and a darn good product at that. According to this Motherboard article, the stethoscope, which cost $5 to produce, outperformed a $200 competitor in testing.

What's even cooler is that Tarek Loubani, head of this project (and an ER doctor in Gaza), "foresees a future in which lifesaving medical devices, like dialysis machines and electrocardiograms, can be 3D printed around the world for a fraction of their former cost. Inspired by the open source software movement, he keeps all his code on GitHub and encourages doctors and hardware hackers to contribute to the project in a collaborative way."

4. Living Tissue

"Ali Khademhosseini, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is working to print heart-tissue pieces from a cell-laden, ink-like substance. His lab hopes to engineer these tissues for transplantation, so one day organ donation would become obsolete." Read the full article from Boston here. Photo courtesy of Brigham and Women's Hospital.

5. Organs

One step up from printing living tissue is printing fully functioning organs, a true challenge in biomedicine! Researchers at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina are currently working on a 3D printed kidney. The researchers will first attempt printing sheets of tissue with the ultimate goal of printing a full kidney. As the project is still in early stages, we will have to wait to see what happens.

6. Cartilage  


A team of researchers at ETH Zürich’s Cartilage Engineering and Regeneration lab has been working hard to 3D print human cartilage in record time. Their newly developed process will allow hospitals to print a nose implant in less than 20 minutes. This means trauma victims could have a custom implant printed and implanted almost immediately. This technology doesn't only apply to noses, though. Any cartilage-based body part (think ears and knees for instance) could be printed. Read the full article from 3Dprinting.com here.

7. Eyeballs

Italian Researchers Expect 3D Printed Eyes by 2027, Providing Enhanced Vision & WiFi Connection

8. Pre-Surgical Models

A new study by the Erlanger Health System and a startup called 3D Ops will explore how "patient-specific, 3D printed models" help during surgical preparation. These models, which are 3D printed directly from patients' medical scans, allow surgeons to practice and troubleshoot before the real deal. Read more from the 3D Printing Industry write-up here

9. Blood Vessels

Back at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston (the same group printing living tissue), the research team has successfully printed artificial blood vessels that could be used for testing new drugs or for transplants. Although there isn't a feasible application for humans yet, they do think this is a possibility. One limitation, however, is that tiny blood vessels (think capillaries) cannot be printed yet because the current material is too weak. Read more over at Live Science. 

10. Orthotics


From their site: Each SOLS insole is bio-mechanically engineered to stabilize and support your every step. Today SOLS has made truly customized insoles a reality by integrating next generation computer vision and 3D printed technology. Using your photos, digital modeling, and expert human analysis, we create a detailed, three dimensional map of your foot. Using this map, we build an insole unique to you.

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