3D Printing in Medicine

Stampa 3D Medicale

3D Printing in Medicine

Three-dimensional or additive printing in the medical field is undoubtedly a tool with great potential for reproducing anything. Thanks to a 3D printer, it is possible to create anatomical models that reproduce each patient’s actual data so that action can be taken for specific pathologies.

In addition, 3D printing is a beneficial aid for simulating, in printed models, soft tissue, bones, cartilage, blood vessels, dental prostheses, and all the elements necessary for training healthcare personnel and medical teams. However, this modern and innovative tool has many other potential uses, such as producing hearing aids, prostheses, orthoses, and exoskeletons.

Why 3D printing is considered a key technology in the biomedical field

Like any other technological innovation, 3D printing for the medical sector has also faced discordant opinions that have generated feelings of acceptance and rejection. The latter is often expressed without in-depth study of the technology in question and is therefore motivated by an a priori stance against the new methods and in defence of the cornerstones of medical tradition.

In most cases, however, it is now perceived as a valuable technological support, especially in the biomedical, clinical and patient care contexts. Unfortunately, we have only found its application in a few hospital centres. These are usually centres with a higher level of complexity, considering the expertise this type of technology requires regarding the use of specific software and the printer itself.

However, considerable progress seems to be being made compared to the past decade. Many centres are trying to acquire this technology, and many have already done so. This openness has allowed three-dimensional printing to become part of the daily routine for diagnosis and treatment. Other hospitals, on the other hand, plan to set up full-fledged 3D printing laboratories to support the surgical department in complex cases.

Those who have already used 3D printing have highlighted several advantages of this technology. Among the main ones are time savings, reduction of intra- and post-operative risks for patients, better surgical performance (since test operations are performed on a model and then on the patient), and better communication between doctor and patient and between medical and paramedical teams.

The difference between direct and indirect applications of 3D printing in medicine

To better understand the usefulness and role of 3D printing in the medical field, it is necessary to clarify and divide this technology into two macro-categories of applicability: indirect applications and indirect applications.

Direct applications recreate medical devices that come into contact with the patient. Indirect applications, on the other hand, use 3D printing to create anatomical models that will be used for clinical and pre-operative evaluations.

Distinguishing between these two categories makes it possible to clarify the evolution of this technology in the medical field in the future. Indeed, those working in this field constantly ask themselves what the future of 3D printing will be in the hospital environment. Understanding the direction is of fundamental importance in setting up the best strategy to achieve the objectives and move towards the right path.

Advantages and problems of indirect 3D applications

The first area where indirect 3D printing technology for the medical sector has entered the wellness and health sector concerns precisely indirect applications. From this starting point, technological development has allowed this tool to establish itself in the best international hospital centres as an indispensable surgical support.

Thanks to direct applications, faithful anatomical models of a patient can be obtained through radiological images from which the patient’s specific anatomy is realised in 3D. In this way, a physician can assess the patient’s clinical condition, make important pre-operative decisions, evaluate the case with the team, perform a realistic simulation of the operation using the model, and communicate the case (both to other specialists and the patient himself).

These applications, therefore, are of fundamental importance within the diagnostic and operative context. In addition to these significant advantages, indirect applications also have limitations. The most important of these are the following: the impossibility of obtaining more clinical information beyond that which radiological examinations can assess, the impossibility of 3D printing to add further diagnostic information to what is already visible from tomographic images, the impossibility of faithfully reproducing tissues (although the most modern printing technologies have improved tactile rendering) and, finally, the lack of regulation of its use.

Advantages and problems of direct 3D applications

The real value of 3D printing technology in the medical field is undoubtedly its direct applications. This incredible technology brings real innovation by allowing devices reproduced by this tool to be applied directly to the patient.

The characteristics of direct application bring 3D printing in the medical field closer to biology, biotechnology and bioengineering, all subjects that aim to find advanced solutions for the treatment of complex diseases. The ultimate expression of direct applications in the medical field is, in fact, 3D Bioprinting.

By the term 3D Bioprinting, we refer to the three-dimensional printing of products that perform a biological function. This type of direct application reaches the highest level of tissue regeneration. Many institutes internationally are investing time and resources in this field of research, intending to eliminate the long waits associated with receiving an organ transplant.

This type of direct application is also the ideal solution in those cases where a patient has severe organ damage that does not involve a transplant, allowing them to return to an acceptable quality of life.

On the other hand, as far as limitations are concerned, there are currently two main ones: the lack of explicit authorisation paths (necessary to regulate devices made by 3D printing) and the timid acceptance of 3D Bioprinting devices by professionals. Concerning the latter limitation, it must be pointed out that some doctors have not welcomed the experimentation and use of this modern technological innovation. Others, on the other hand, even view it with suspicion. The latter probably do not know it or have not investigated its incredible potential.

Final considerations

The analysis of this new technology and its present and future usefulness revealed that indirect applications can already be used as immediate support in making important surgical decisions. On the other hand, direct applications are the real goal that every researcher and hospital centre that adopts them should strive to implement and improve.

The future of 3D printing in the medical field lies in the applicability of biologically customised supports to the patient. This aspect can make this technology truly revolutionary. Of course, this aspect is also the most difficult to realise. This difficulty currently drives many medical professionals to focus more on indirect applications, which are also more attractive from a market perspective.

However, in scientific research, the direct application of 3D printing technology in medicine can be considered this technology’s true and highest expression.

In any case, it will also be important to rely on professional 3D printing companies such as Fama 3D, which uses the best technology and has more than 140 years of experience producing industrial components.

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