Introduction of 3D printing in medicine
3D printing is an additive manufacturing technique that creates three-dimensional objects by constructing successive layers of raw material such as metals, plastics, and ceramics.
Objects are produced from a digital file, developed from a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computer-aided design (CAD) drawing, allowing the manufacturer to easily make changes or adapt the product as desired.
There are a variety of 3D printers available on the market, ranging from inexpensive models aimed at consumers and capable of printing small and simple parts, to industrial-grade printers that produce significantly larger and more complex products.
To date, some medical devices, such as prosthetic implants and orthopedic devices, have been manufactured using 3D printing. Manufacturers use 3D printing technologies to create devices with complex geometries, such as knee replacements with a porous structure, which can facilitate tissue growth and integration.
3D printing can also create a product or the entire component of a device, while other manufacturing techniques may require multiple parts to be manufactured separately and screwed or welded together, adding weight and complexity to the system.
A field of medicine where 3D printing plays an important role is the manufacture of products adapted to the patient based on their anatomy. Examples of this are joint replacements, cranial implants and dental restorations. This level of customization is also used in what’s called point-of-care manufacturing. This on-demand creation is based on the images obtained from the patient.
Medical devices that are printed at the point of care include anatomical models, prostheses, and patient-tailored surgical guides, which are tools that help guide surgeons on how to act during an operation. The number of hospitals with a centralized 3D printing facility has grown rapidly over the past decade. As technology evolves, this point-of-care model may become even more widespread.
In other medical areas, 3D printing is also used, for example, to manufacture pharmaceutical products in dosage forms or unique formulations, including those that could allow slower or faster absorption, depending on the particular needs of the patient. 3D printing could also one day be used to make personalized treatments that combine several medications into a single pill, or “polycompressed.” In addition, researchers are using bioprinters to create cellular and tissue constructs, such as skin and organ grafts, with these applications still in different phases of experimental development.
From plaster to 3D printing
Many people, from children, young people to the elderly, sometimes have to use a plaster for recovery from an accident or blow.
The cast is uncomfortable in itself, which binds to the pain and mobility impairment of the injury.
Nowadays, new technologies are incorporated into medicine that improve treatments. One of these technologies is 3D printing, which provides a much more effective substitute for plaster: the 3D printed plastic splint. Plaster is thus replaced by 3D printing.
The splints help to accelerate the injury: electrodes can be inserted to perform electrostimulation therapies that prevent the immobilized muscle from atrophying.
Another advantage of 3D printed splints is that there are many designs and they can be removed and put on during treatment for observation of the lesion. Finally, patients can open and close their splint to incorporate the scheduled electrodes into electrostimulation therapy.
Advantages of 3D printed splints
The splint is a rigid external element that is used in order to immobilize a part of the body. In medicine they are usually used when, to heal a fracture or dislocation, it is necessary to restrict totally or partially the movement of a joint
Splints made in 3D have a different appearance and also different properties from traditional ones. As complex geometries can be composed by means of 3D manufacturing, splints usually have optimized properties to save weight, improve strength and in general, substantially improve their functionality.
Splints in plaster are quite common and have been manufactured for a long time. So why manufacture them using 3D printing? For its many advantages. We explain them to you:
The splints are designed to be 3D printed to suit each person. This means that the splint will fit perfectly around our limb to achieve any mobility restrictions prescribed by a doctor.
In addition, the splint can be adapted to the morphology of the patient, so very tall or very short people, whose limbs do not have the average size, will not have problems since they will be made to measure.
Splints can be designed with complete freedom, and are usually designed to be easily placed and removed for rehabilitation, treatment or cleaning of the injured area.
Since 3D printed splints are custom designed to suit each patient, aspects such as materials and aesthetic appearance can also be adapted to their liking.
Any need can be met with the 3D printed splint. Thus, very light splints can be manufactured without great mechanical requirements, very resistant, very breathable for those who do not tolerate heat well, etc.
Generally, a 3D printed splint will be lighter and stronger than a traditional one, in addition to other advantages such as being radio-transparent (for X-rays), submersible, etc.
The 3D printed splint can adapt better than a traditional one to different injuries, since it can become more or less restrictive.
On the other hand, the appearance of 3D printed splints does not have to imitate that of traditional ones. This means that, as long as the optimal performance criteria are met, the design may vary to suit our tastes. Therefore, splints can be manufactured to look almost like works of art and can become an aesthetic element. Being injured doesn’t have to stop you from being fashionable.
Through accessible technologies it is possible to design and 3D print splints with very complex geometries and perfectly adapted to our morphology without having to spend a lot of money.
Other advantages of 3D printed splints:
- They are lightweight
- They can get wet.
- They are made to suit the patient and adapted to their anatomy.
- The design of the pattern can confer more resistance in the necessary points and allow greater comfort in others.
- They do not cause itching or have edges
- In them, air circulation is possible, so they do not give heat or generate odor.
- They can be opened and closed to check the evolution of the lesion.
- They allow electrostimulation to be performed so that the muscle does not atrophy. They take up very little space so they can be covered with the patient’s street clothes. They are aesthetically beautiful and novel, so they do not bother aesthetically when they are in areas of the body exposed to the eye.
As we can see, medicine advances unstoppably and uses new manufacturing technologies. One of them is 3D printing, which has a regulation at European level, which we have mentioned briefly. Practice shows us examples of using 3D printing with plastic splints that can replace plaster plasters. It is not the future, but the present. We have moved from plaster to 3D printing.
Do you want to know all the possibilities offered by 3D printing? Get in touch with us!