3-D Printing: The Future is Now!

Posted by Emerald Coast Medical Association on May 4, 2018 8:56:22 AM

A nine-month-old baby was born with a fatal heart defect in China. Suffering from a rare condition which was extremely difficult to repair, the doctors were concerned about performing the delicate surgery. The medical team decided to build a full-sized model of the infant’s heart with  a 3-D printer in order to pre-plan and practice the risky and complex surgery. Thanks in part to the accuracy the 3-D model enabled them to have, the doctors were successful and the little boy is expected to survive with few lasting effects.

As medical professionals, we are all familiar with the process of printing out a prescription or a patient’s test results. But how would you feel about printing the actual pills your patient needs? Or printing out a hip joint, a custom model of the patient’s circulatory system, or even a prosthetic ear? Advances in 3-D printing have made things that sounded like science fiction even a decade ago very close to being a reality, and some are actually possible already.

A field that is rapidly taking advantage of the unique ability to print medical devices is that of prosthetics. A traditional prosthetic can take weeks or even months to create, and the cost can be prohibitively high, preventing many from a better quality of life they could have with one. With 3-D printing, custom prosthetic devices can be made in one day for a fraction of the cost.

Another area where 3-D printing is revolutionizing the way we work is medical devices. Total spending on medical devices in the U.S. makes up roughly a nickel of every health-care dollar, according to the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), the industry’s trade group. 3-D printing splints and casts could make a real difference in patient cost as well as patient experience. Casts be precisely modeled to a patient’s limb in just a few hours, creating a more comfortable and versatile product than traditional casts and splints.

Items such as tumor and organ models used by students and researchers can also be accomplished much more quickly, cheaply, and in an customized way thanks to 3-D printing.  Medical simulation exercises are playing an increasingly important role in medical training, giving students practical, hands on experience without putting actual patients at risk. A recent study shows that a 3-D printed model of a patient's blood vessels is just as effective as current commercially available models for medical student training in interventional radiology. 3-D printing can reproduce an exact map of a patient’s unique blood vessels based on a CT scan and produce an ultrasound-compatible vascular access model made of a tissue-mimicking material that is durable, to withstand punctures, but still feels realistic. This tailoring allows trainees to practice with variations in individual anatomy before they encounter them during a procedure.

The FDA has even recently approved the first 3-D printed prescription medication. Sold by Aprecia Pharmaceuticals under the name Spritam, this drug has been developed for epilepsy sufferers to dissolve more easily and have exact, customizable dosing for patients. That implies that we could soon seen the introduction of bespoke medications and drugs, no more one-size-fits all approach to medication. With 3-D printing, each dosage can be individually measured and then printed.

At Emerald Coast Medical Association, we are committed to keeping abreast of cutting edge medical news and research. We know the best practitioners are the ones who are most informed about developments in medicine and technology, and we pride ourselves on being a resource for continued learning and education. Our monthly member meetings cover a wide variety of topics and current events in medicine, to give our members the opportunity to grow their knowledge base. Please click below to view the upcoming events and know that we welcome anyone to come to a monthly meeting, regardless of membership status, to try out ECMA and learn how beneficial membership can be.

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Topics: News, Treatment, Member Meetings

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