Additive or 3D printing is a technology that continues to develop as innovators dream up new applications. What started out as an ideal way for crafts enthusiasts and hobbyists to create their own models has blossomed into an industry-spanning technology capable of helping spawn highly technical and specialized tools and instruments. But of all the ways 3D printing might be implemented, perhaps the one with the most potential for immediate results is in health care.
Health care providers can use additive printing to build prosthetic limbs and digits, create models of organs and even replace bones. As the technology gains use, small health care providers will find it to be a welcome alternative to other more dangerous, invasive and expensive techniques.
Doctors fight cancer with 3D printing
In several instances, doctors have developed ways to combat bone cancer through the use of additive printing. According to 3Dprint.com, doctors were able to avoid amputating a patient's leg by replacing his cancerous heel with a 3D printed titanium implant. Historically, bone cancer of the calcaneus – the bone that makes up the foundation of the back of the foot – almost always required amputation below the knee to stop the cancer from spreading. Now, 3D printing gives surgeons another option.
"Science advances have allowed us to consider 3D printing of bones and we were able to get information from [the patient's] foot and use that to tell the computers precisely how big his foot is, and reproduce that using the new 3D technology," operating surgeon Professor Peter Choong told 3Dprint.com. "Going from the possibility of an amputation to where you preserve the limb on account of one [replacement] bone is rewarding if you can achieve it."
In another instance, an Indian man diagnosed with cancer of the palate or upper jaw posed a challenge for the surgical team, according to Gizmag. Because the patient could not properly open his mouth, creating a mold and replacement jaw would be difficult. But additive printing technology allowed the team to build a 3D model of the man's jaw through a CAT scan. With a working model, they could effectively create an accurate and functioning prosthesis.
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