Press ‘print’ for prosthetic hands, blood vessels, airway splints and more.
U.S. News & World Report
Imagine 3-D printers that could produce healthy new organs, human tissue and artificial limbs, just like
your office printer cranks out paper reports. While it’s not nearly that advanced yet, 3-D technology is
making strides in surgery, medicine and pharmacology. See how 3-D printing is paving the way for
future breakthroughs – and helping patients now.
1. Hands for kids
Simple, sturdy and OK to outgrow are all important considerations in prosthetic hands for children, says
Dr. Gloria Gogola, a pediatric hand surgeon at Shriners Hospital for Children–Houston. 3-D printers
produce lightweight, highly customizable and inexpensive artificial hands that are ideal for young patients,
she says. Kids can choose their colors, wear their new hands and play hard – replacing damaged
prosthetics as needed is no big deal.
2. Jaw surgery difference
Jaw replacement surgery, a procedure for jaw tumors and infections, involves dental posts, prosthetic teeth
and even leg bone. Reconstruction is a multi-part process, and patients endure a long recovery. Doctors at
NYU Langone Medical Center, working with 3D Systems, have pioneered the procedure that uses 3-D
generated images in the virtual surgical plan. “With the ‘Jaw in a Day' method, many intermediary surgeries
for the implants and prosthetics are no longer needed, shaving at least a year off recovery time for patients,”
says Dr. Jamie P. Levine, chief of microsurgery at NYU Langone.
3. Blood vessels to order
3-D printing materials aren’t always metal or plastic. Harvard scientists have created a method to print tissue
structures with blood vessel networks. As part of the still-evolving process, Jennifer Lewis, a biological
engineering professor, and colleagues developed “bio inks” that contain ingredients of bodily tissues.
According to a press release from Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the bio-printing
method may represent an early step toward building 3-D living tissue – such as skin and cartilage –
for surgical use in patients.
4. Face transplant tech
For someone with a severe facial deformity, a face transplant can feel like a miracle. Success of the complex,
lengthy procedure depends on planning, say physicians at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The BWH
face-transplant team is using life-sized models of patients’ heads, created with CT imaging and 3-D printer
technology. These models help surgeons understand the facial anatomy, do advance work and operate with
increased confidence, according to a BWH press release.
That means shorter time in the operating room – a good thing for patients.
5. Unique hearts
Heart surgery is delicate, especially for patients with unusual heart defects. Dr. Stephen Seslar, a congenital
heart disease specialist and electrophysiologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital and University of Washington
Medical Center, devised a way to help surgeons practice before performing challenging procedures.
Seslar worked with Seattle materials engineer Tom Burke, who developed a heart model that uses MRI or
CT scans along with a 3-D printer. The model, an exact replica of a patient's heart, even feels like a human
heart to the touch.
6. Airway support
Devices made with 3-D printers can help keep children’s airways open. At University of Michigan C.S. Mott
Children’s Hospital, splints created with this technology have helped save babies with a dangerous condition
that causes the windpipe to periodically collapse, preventing normal breathing. So far, the 3-D printed splints
have been used with five young C.S. Mott patients.
7. Prenatal precaution
In a different case, 3-D printing helped doctors at C.S. Mott Children’s determine the delivery method for an
unborn baby. An ultrasound revealed a facial lump with potential to prevent the baby from breathing after birth.
With an MRI image done in the womb, the 3-D printer produced a model of the head and face.
Fortunately, as described in the November issue of Pediatrics, the model showed the baby was not at risk and
could be delivered by a routine C-section, instead of a more-complex surgery to create an airway.
8. Helping medicine go down
When a person with epilepsy can’t swallow pills, or a child resists taking medicine to prevent seizures,
it’s a problem. In August, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new tablet made with 3-D
printer technology. The product, called Spritam, contains the anti-seizure medication levetiracetam.
The difference is in the tablet, which allows the medication to quickly disperse with a sip of liquid before
swallowing. Jennifer Zieverink, senior director of alliance management for Aprecia Pharmaceuticals,
says Spritam is expected to go on the market in early 2016.
8 Cool Uses for 3-D Printers in Health Care was originally published on U.S. News & World Report.