The rapidly expanding field of 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM) or rapid prototyping (RP), has exciting applications in medicine and healthcare. As the name indicates, it is a way of manufacturing three dimensional solid object from a digital model. This additive method is distinct from traditional manufacturing techniques that depend on a subtractive process of removing materials using drilling or cutting. The actual and projected uses of this technique are diverse and is proposed to bring revolutionary changes in healthcare domain. Dental implants and prosthetics were one of the first applications of 3D printing in healthcare. Presently, this technology is being used in different fields including prosthetics, implants, anatomical models, drug discovery, and dosage forms.
Bioprinting is an offshoot of this technology used to reproduce 3D tissue-like structures. This application is still in the infancy, but shows immense prospects in creating tissues including heart valves, knee meniscus, spinal disc, bones and cartilages. Use of these tissues and organs in biomedical research for screening potential drugs and receptors is also a projected application that will cut time and cost of research.
3D printing has extensive value in producing complex and customized prosthetics and surgical implants. Custom implants like dental, spinal and hip implants can be produced at a very short time period, but with accuracy in fit and design. About 99% of the hearing aids are now prepared by this technique. 3D printing will also enable the preparation of study or surgical models, to gain insight into the anatomy prior to a procedure, and helps to overcome the instructive shortcoming of a 2D screen. Even the most complicated structures of the body can be represented in the best possible way using 3D printing.
In pharmaceutical research, 3D printing is being used in the control of drug size and dose, and also in the production of dosage forms of drugs with complex profile. Personalized medications with increased efficacy and decreased risk are also on the anvil with the use of this technology. It is useful in preparing new formulations of medications, while 3D printed models are used in medical device field and is growing exponentially.
All the above mentioned applications are just few of the possible uses of 3D printing. New bio-printers and bio-compatible materials are sure to expedite other applications in this field. The future generations will witness improvement in some of the old applications along with some new and spectacular developments.