The pros and cons of 3D printing in Medicine

From 2010 onwards, we have seen an accelerated growth in Medical 3D Printing. Due to the emergence of the Desktop 3D Printer, and advancements in 3D design software, innovators and 3D designers have been able to push the envelope, expanding the boundaries of what was once unconceivable in medicine. But is the partnering of 3D Printing and medicine all beneficial, or are there some cons which should be considered? As with all advancements, there are positives and there are negatives. This article considers some of the fundamental promises and downfalls which have arisen from 3D Printing in Modern Medicine.

Pro: Training in 3D

While cadavers and organs provide a realistic means of training for the medical profession, they require that there be bodies and organs in which to use. Since priority is given to organ donation rather than to teaching purposes, the supply is limited (as it should be). To accommodate for the loss of hands-on experience, traditionally, academic modules and some 3D interactive training has been used. VR in medical education and Augmented reality has come to the forefront in recent years as a method in which to train medical professionals. Yet, even with the augmented reality, the level of real, hands on, experience is lacking.

3D medical printing techniques allow for organs to be printed using synthetic fibers which simulate the actual tissue fibers of the human. The models are quickly rendered from a 3D CAD Design. These models can be as simple as a fibula or as complex as the heart, allowing students to fully understand the depths and the dimensions of the area of medicine that they will be specializing and working in later.

Con: Improper Representation

The downside to printing models for medical purposes is found within the models themselves. For example, if a model is intended for gaming purposes but is used inappropriately for medical training, then the student could become accustom to error, which could in theory transfer to their practice if not corrected.

Pro: Expenditure of medical equipment, drugs, and prosthetics decreased

Medical costs have been at the forefront of political debates for at least 30 years. Cutting costs and honing in on the rise of medical expenses appears to take precedence in speeches. Thanks to commercial 3D printers, the expenditures of medical equipment, drugs, and prosthetics have decreased. Since some modern printers allow for a complete print of a pill, or even printing tissue or integrating trackers into the print itself

In addition to the expenditure reduction is the expedited rate in which these elements can be created. In some cases prosthetics used to take months to construct. They now take a few hours to 3D Print. You are able to manufacture only when needed, locally, thus dropping costs and potentially increasing quality. Lower costs, a quicker rate of manufacture and strong materials are all points which push the 3D printing processes to become a major contributor to modern medicine.

Regarding the printing of pharmaceuticals, bottles and capsules can easily be printed using something as small as a desktop printer. This flexibility allows for local medical practices to not only prescribe their medication, but (if they have a licensed Pharmacist on staff) a potential to fulfill an uncommon prescription on site for the patients. Though this has not been reported as in practice, this example gives you an idea of the endless possibilities that are available in Medical 3D Printing

Con: A rise in rip-offs

With any rise of popularity comes the possibility of rip-offs. This is especially true for the medical profession. Being able to quickly model 3D bottles and then using Photoshop to add a label can quickly make a product seem legitimate. For example, the below bottle was created in about 10 minutes. Equipped with a label in Photoshop, this image could easily be 3D Printed and marketed. Consumers must therefore be diligent in looking at online medicine to ensure local regulations are met.


Print ready 3D pill bottle provided by Siclari Studios

The Bottom Line

While there are some cons in 3D printing in modern medicine, the pros tremendously outweigh them. As such, it is encouraged that the innovator, the doctor, and those in the medical profession seek out ways in which to push the boundaries. Such a push is already happening with 3D-Printed Human Embryonic Stem Cells and a 3D printer being used for liver tissue. And, while the bounds of the 3D printer are still somewhat limited, it can be concluded that as the technology in Commercial 3D printing advance, the ability to quickly replicate damaged organs, muscles, nerve endings, amputated appendages, and perhaps even brain tissue/sensors will become a standard practice in the foreseeable future.

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