3D printing is nothing new to medicine, and has already helped save numerous lives and improve many more.
Earlier this year, for example, 3D printed splints helped save three babies from a life-threatening breathing condition. Not only were the splints customised to each patient’s airways, but they were also designed to change shape as the children grow.
Prosthetics is one field where 3D printing has huge potential. Current prosthetics are typically mass-produced, expensive to make and difficult to customise for each patient. The winner of this year’s James Dyson Award addressed these very issues, designing a 3D printed prosthetic hand which was more lightweight, easier to customise and can be produced at a fraction of the cost of current mass-produced models.
A recent breakthrough at the University of Florida is also paving the way for 3D printed organs. While scientists have already synthesised kidneys, ears and veins using 3D bioprinters, latest developments using gel scaffold may allow us to print complex, working organs in the future.
Perhaps the most surprising development is the approval of the first 3D printed pill for consumer use. The technology allows layers of different medications to be packaged in precise dosages, pointing to a future of 3D printed personalised medicines, which could even be manufactured in a patient’s home.