The world’s first ever 3D printer was manufactured in the year 1983 by Chuck Hall. 3D printing revolutionizing healthcare by playing a crucial part in healthcare delivery. Three-dimensional printing essentially enables the production of a physical model from digital data via technology. This technology can be used for many purposes and is increasingly being used in medical treatments.  Due to technological advancements and innovation, 3D printing can enable the pharma and medical industry to create drugs, implants, anatomical models, etc. The technique shows great promise and can help enhance skills and research knowledge to carry out complex surgical procedures. It is estimated that 3D printing in healthcare will rise to $3.5 billion by 2025.

3D Printing Revolutionizing Healthcare: Applications 

Five steps are involved before a 3D model can be finalized for printing. This includes image acquisition and target area selection, after which there is the development of the 3D geometry, followed by file optimization for final print, the selection of materials and 3D printers and then finally, validation and quality control. The 3D printer produces the object starting at the base layer and adds layers until the whole structure is completed. In healthcare, 3D printing has more applications enabling health professionals to improve and save lives in unimaginable ways.

Fields that are utilizing 3D printing include cardiology, vascular surgery, otolaryngology, neurosurgery, oral surgery, maxillofacial surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, pulmonology, urology, gastroenterology, plastic surgery, neurosurgery, podiatry, ophthalmology, radiation oncology, transplant surgery and orthopaedic surgery among others. 3D technology is being directly used for personalized, presurgical/treatment and preoperative planning that can help ascertain the best course of treatment. This can speed up surgical procedures, decrease the risk of complications and consequently, lower healthcare costs.

Bioprinting, which is the creation of living tissues like blood vessels, bones, heart or skin using 3D printing technology, is set to end animal testing and organ shortages in the future. Other uses include customization of prosthetics and surgical instruments, enhancing medical education and training, the study of bone structure for better treatment, improve forensic practices, testing the effectiveness of devices using various prototypes, patient-centred communication, customization of synthetic organs to aid transplantation, training doctors in their specialties using 3D models of rare cases.

3D Printing Revolutionizing Healthcare by helping in creation of personalized drugs will soon be a reality. This technology can support genomics-based drugs, polypills (for patients that need multiple drugs), production of essential drugs in low income, war-prone or remote areas. A study headed by Matthew Peak, director of research at Alder Hey Clinical Research Facility, Liverpool, was the first to administer 3D printed tablets to children. The research trial asked 50 children aged 4 to 12 to ingest traditional placebo tablets of three different sizes to determine the best sizes for particular age groups. 20 of the 50 children were then asked to swallow 3D printed tablets to check how they would react to them. There was a favourable response to the pills and the team plans to give 3D printed pills to children who need it in future trials. 3D printing holds immense promise in the production of various tablet sizes and dosages, and the approach packs in more active ingredients as compared to standard manufacturing.

3D Printing Technology in Indian Healthcare

India is not far behind in harnessing 3D technology to solve medical cases. When a 5-month-old girl from Karnataka was diagnosed with craniosynostosis, Sakra World Hospital’s team of doctors took on her case. The girl’s skull had two bones fused together, which was  stopping her brain development. The doctors successfully separated the bones and used a customized helmet to nudge the brain growth in the right direction. The helmet was made by Osteo3d, a startup based in Bengaluru, that specializes in design and delivery of 3D printed pre-surgery models and guides. It also received a grant from the Indian government’s Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) in February 2015. In another case, Materialise MV used its 3D printing solutions to assist surgeons in Kochi, to operate on two cardiac patients with complex defects. The accuracy of the 3D replicas of the patients’ hearts helped them carry out the surgery successfully. These cases demonstrate the adoption of 3D technologies by hospitals in India for their patients. This points towards immense potential for future treatments assisted by 3D technologies in the country.