Rapid prototyping is set to change the world in profound and exciting ways. It could, realistically, be employed to construct cheap modular housing, parts for industry or even bespoke toys and games. It is for its medical applications however that rapid prototyping is perhaps most tantalising. With this in mind, what are the medical applications of a 3D printer?
Everybody is different. In fact, every “body “is different. This is a problem for the production of prostheses and implants, which are traditionally produced to standardised sizes. Using a 3D printer, you could realistically produce prostheses that are matched to individual patients. In fact, this kind of rapid prototyping is already happening, and has been used to produce a prosthetic ear for a patient.
Surgery is a complicated business, albeit performed by highly trained professionals. They are highly trained, because they practise on life-like models. These models can be cost effectively produced using rapid prototyping techniques. Models can be transparent, and an invaluable tool for surgeons who need to practise complex procedures in a life-like environment.
Building Real Organs
Perhaps the most exciting potential use of 3D printer technology is building actually working organs. “Additive fabrication” can build very complicated models, and these could become a key element in a fully working manufactured organ. This might sound like science fiction, but the beginnings of this kind of process are already here.
3D printing promises to change our lives in all sorts of different ways. It will likely lower the cost of industrial components, and might even pave the way to cheaper housing. However, perhaps most amazingly it could save and prolong lives through its medical applications.
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