3D printing for medical applications

What are the medical applications forĀ 3D printing?

The medical sectorĀ can benefit greatly fromĀ 3D printing. This technology is suited for various medical applications:Ā from 3D bioprinting, to custom made casts and tailored prosthesis orĀ orthosis.

Bioprinting opens the door toĀ on-demand human organs creation,Ā including bones, cartilage, and skin. With 3D printing, it could be soonĀ possible to produce replacement organs or limbs.

3D printing is also being testedĀ for the production of personalized casts,Ā made of light plastic and fitting perfectly the patient.

Finally, 3D printing is used to create customizedĀ prosthesis andĀ orthosis. 3D printing brings down dramatically the production costs of such medical devicesĀ and make them affordable for the masses.

3D bioprinting

Bioprinting is the creation of biological tissue and organs through the layering of living cells, using a bioprinter.

3D bioprintingĀ is a contraction of ā€œbiological printingā€. It is a new and promising medical techniqueĀ that involves the 3D printing of biological tissuesĀ using a 3D bioprinter. The potential applications can range from creating replacement organs to fabricating human tissues or specific prosthetics.

However, this technology is in infancyĀ stage, and it’s still a long way before we can 3D print a fully functional replacement organ or limb. For now, bioprinting is mostly used in medical and biological labs to create samples of biological tissues used in drugĀ testings and experimentations.

3D printed prosthesis and orthosis

3D printing is used to create cost-effective and highly customized prosthesis and orthosis.

For growing children needing prosthesis, 3D printingĀ isĀ a very cost-effectiveĀ option. Indeed, instead of having to buy new sets of prosthesis as the child grows, with 3D printing it is easy and affordable to just print larger prosthesis parts. It is possible to use a personal 3D printer for this purpose. For more comfort, the disabled limb can be 3D scanned with a 3D scanner.

A few example of initiatives to promote 3D printed prosthesis:Ā Open BionicsĀ is a project whichĀ aims to create low-cost robotic hands for amputees, researchers and hobbyists all across the world.Ā This Wired articleĀ also describes the design process of the Exo prosthetic leg, a 3D printed leg prosthesis.

AĀ prosthesis is an artificial device that replaces a missing body part, which may be lost as the result ofĀ an injury, a disease, or a congenital condition. An orthosisĀ is an external device used to modify the structural and functional characteristics of the neuromuscular and skeletal system.

A simple disambiguation between two terms is that orthosis assist a deficient function of the body while prosthesisĀ replace a missing body part.

Prosthesis and orthosis are a great fit for 3D printing because they are mostly made of plastics and they require to be highly customizedĀ to fit perfectly the patient. With 3D printing, itĀ is now possible to build affordableĀ prosthesis, a small revolution in the medical industry.


The Exo prosthetic leg, a 3D printed super-lightweight prosthetic leg by William Root.

TheĀ Exo prosthetic leg, aĀ 3D printed super-lightweight prosthetic leg byĀ William Root.

3D printed casts

3D printing is used to produce plastic casts, light and custom-made to fit perfectly the patient.

3D printing, a cost-effective technique to produce custom objects, isĀ a great optionĀ for the creation of medical casts.

In 2013, Jake Evill, a UK designer, produced the first 3D printed cast, called theĀ Cortex exoskeletal. The cortex cast is based onĀ the X-ray and 3D scan of a patient, used toĀ generate a 3D model of a customized cast.Ā This cast provides a highly localized support system on the trauma zone. The 3D printed cast is alsoĀ ventilated, veryĀ light, hygienic, and recyclable. It can even be used in the shower!

In 2014, Deniz Karasahin, aĀ Turkish student, created the Osteoid: a 3D printed cast which incorporates ultrasonic technology to accelerateĀ the bone healingĀ process.Ā Combining a 3D printedĀ cast with low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS), the Osteoid is like an enhanced castĀ designed toĀ fasten the healing process.

The Cortex exoskeletal cast: a 3D printed cast designed by Jake Evill

The Cortex exoskeletal cast: a 3D printed cast designed by Jake Evill.