3D Printing in Healthcare


Every year, there are thousands of patients in Canada who are waiting for an organ transplant. In 2019, there were over 4400 patients on the transplant waiting list, but sadly, 250 people died on that list while waiting for a transplant. What can we do to prevent the unnecessary suffering and grief for thousands of families annually? Thankfully, the ever-advancing technology of 3D-printing can be applicable in the healthcare industry.  

What is 3D-printing? 3D-printing is the method of creating physical, 3D objects from computer aided drawing (CAD) models. 3D-printers can create these objects by using a method called fused depositional modeling (FDM), which is a technology where the melt extrusion method is used to deposit filaments of thermal plastics according to the CAD model.  

Applications Today 

The usage of 3D printing in healthcare has only been around for a relatively short amount of time. Starting from the late 1990s, 3D printing has been utilized to produce dental implants and custom prosthetics. Since the specificity of dental implants and prosthetics vary so greatly between individuals, 3D printing is highly suited for this role. The agility of 3D printing and the flexibility to customize allows patients to receive the most ideal product possible.  

For example, Coat, a Chicago based company, designs myoelectric sensitive upper-limb prosthetics. Myoelectric prosthetics is a constantly evolving technology that allows the electrical signals generated naturally by your own muscles to control an externally powered artificial limb. The prosthetic device recognizes these electrical signals in conjunction with modern machine learning techniques, which can identify your personal muscle patterns and incorporates them into prosthetic movements. This technology enables patients to have a more natural and intuitive control of the arm.  

Applications Tomorrow 

The future of 3D printing in healthcare is extremely optimistic. There have been experimental procedures of applications in orthopaedics that have been successfully implemented. Despite the success, there are still improvements to be made, and hence 3D printed bones are not in regular clinical use. However, this is a step in the right direction as these customizable 3D printed bones eliminates the discomfort and degradation that is present today in the “one size fits all” artificial bone implants.  

One of the bigger challenges is 3D printed organs, which is still far from clinical use. Researchers are attempting to apply 3D printing to living matter at the cellular level to replicate human tissue. Ideally, organs should be printed with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) directly from the patient to avoid any possibility of reject by the patient’s immune system once an organ has been printed and transplanted. iPSCs are cells that have not yet been defined to be one of the three specific germ layers present in humans. These iPSCs can have specific genetic information encoded into them. Since different organs are made up of different types of cells, one of the biggest challenges is to get the iPSCs to differentiate into a specific subtype of cells to build a specific organ.  

  In 2019, a team of Brazilian researchers were able to successfully 3D print organoids, which are tiny three-dimensional tissue cultures that can be crafted to replicate the functions and complexity of an organ. In this case, the team was able to successfully 3D print organoids that can perform all the functions of the human liver, including building proteins, storing vitamins, and secreting bile.  

Despite the huge achievement Brazil accomplished, these miniature livers are not quite yet ready for transplantation into humans. However, the milestone of 3D printed organoids to lay out the path for future researchers to take in order to break larger barriers is extremely promising. It is clear that the importance and potential of 3D printing applications in healthcare cannot be underestimated. Once the path for being able to successfully 3D print functional human organs has been laid out, the future of medicine will be changed forever. No more organ transplant lists, no more waiting, no more unnecessary deaths.  


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“History of 3D Printing in Medicine: Resources: Fast Radius.” History of 3D Printing in Medicine | Resources | Fast Radius, 30 Apr. 2021, www.fastradius.com/resources/3d-printing-medicine/#:~:text=The%20healthcare%20industry%20was%20one,3D%20printing's%20effect%20on%20medicine.  

Coapt Engineering, 2021, coaptengineering.com/benefits.  

“Myoelectric Prosthetics 101 .” Ottobock., 2020, www.ottobockus.com/prosthetics/info-for-new-amputees/prosthetics-101/myoelectric-prosthetics-101/.  

Yasinski, Emma. “On the Road to 3-D Printed Organs.” The Scientist Magazine®, 26 Feb. 2020, www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/on-the-road-to-3-d-printed-organs-67187.  

“Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Apr. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_pluripotent_stem_cell.  

“Data Offers Hope to Patients Waiting for Organ Transplant.” Canadian Blood Services, 7 Dec. 2020, www.blood.ca/en/stories/data-offers-hope-patients-waiting-organ-transplant.