3D Printing Reshapes Healthcare - InformationWeek

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2/20/2014
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Alison Diana
Alison Diana
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3D Printing Reshapes Healthcare

Printed livers, ears, hands, and eyes? 3D printing can change and save lives.
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3D printing can improve the quality of patients' lives -- even save the lives of some people lucky enough to take advantage of the new technology.

Healthcare has been slow to adopt electronic records and messaging apps, but it's been quick to embrace 3D printers and their specialized materials. In fact, the 3D printing market for healthcare will generate more than $4 billion by 2018, according to a January 2014 report by Visiongain.  

Medical professionals increasingly explore 3D printing because it cuts costs and improves healthcare. "Customized orthopedic implants, for example, perform much better, and their use dramatically reduces surgery times," said Jennifer Taylor, pharmaceutical industry analyst at Visiongain, in an interview."In addition, 3D-printed medical models can reduce surgery times. Surgery costs $100 per minute. As well as resulting in substantial cost-savings, the use of 3D-printed medical implants reduces the risks associated with anesthesia during long surgeries." 

Customization is another reason 3D printing fits naturally into modern treatment, said Shahid N. Shah, chair of the HealthImpact Conference and blogger at HealthcareGuy.com, in an interview. "The interest is very high because 3D printing allows personalization and customization to the extreme -- and there's nothing that requires more customization or personalization than devices connected to or replacement parts of any human body," he said.

As the bodies of patients -- especially children -- change, tailoring 3D-printed parts is much simpler, faster, and less expensive than other approaches, said 3D designer Marius Kalytis, CEO of CGTrader, a 3D marketplace for computer graphics and 3D printing. New materials, or "inks," are advancing 3D printing's capabilities. "Printed implants can be made of fenestrate surface, which will let tissue grow with the implant more easily," he said.

The technology is only at its nascent stages. Researchers are exploring where else we can use 3D printing to improve patients' health. Some promising experiments haven't left the lab. 3D bioprinting, where living tissue is printed, won't be commercially available for the next 12 to 18 months, but hospitals will provide 3D printing of skin grafts within the next decade, said Visiongain's Taylor. Adoption in this area has been hindered by technological limitations and prohibitive costs, added Kalytis.

Currently, many hospitals don't have -- and don't need -- 3D printers, and regular general practitioners won't be installing them any day soon, experts said.

"At present, it won't influence the work a 'normal' doctor does -- only for those people working in these specific, very special fields, and only for those who can innovate," said Liang-Hai Sie, a retired general internist, in an interview. "I think it's a good thing to have these efforts concentrated in a few well-equipped facilities so we [can] learn [how] it is to be used, for what situations, long-term side effects, etc. before it is taken further afield."

It's a different story at larger healthcare organizations. IT departments and senior staff must ensure equipment is available and meets legal and safety rules, while making sure those rules don't stifle innovation, said HealthGuy's Shah. Major research hospitals and health systems should "immediately start to purchase 3D printers," he said. "We need to make sure physicians have access to these sophisticated 'personal manufacturing' capabilities provided by 3D printers," he added.

Delve into our slideshow and take a closer look at what 3D printing can do for patients.

Alison Diana is an experienced technology, business and broadband editor and reporter. She has covered topics from artificial intelligence and smart homes to satellites and fiber optic cable, diversity and bullying in the workplace to measuring ROI and customer experience. An ... View Full Bio

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Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
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5/22/2014 | 8:51:14 AM
Re: 3D printing technologies in medicine
Thanks for the additional link, @Mike. I tell you, every week it seems you'll find a new article about different ways in which researchers or doctors are using 3D printing for healthcare. I can only imagine where we'll be in another 12 to 24 months as materials (the actual "ink" used to generate organs, blood, etc.) improve. Very, very exciting.
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
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3/5/2014 | 9:00:34 PM
Re: Love the skull
Healthcare is such a natural fit for 3D printing, and the uses are incredible. Looking forward to watching this industry grow.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
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3/3/2014 | 5:26:55 PM
Re: 3D Bioprinting
That is amazing. These doctors and researchers are doing an incredible job of saving lives and giving hope where once there was none. Imagine what it will be like in another decade.
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
2/23/2014 | 5:02:25 AM
Re: Love the skull
Alison, 

It's a matter of time. Organ transplants depending on organ donors will one day be thing of the past. And with it, many other doors will open to improve health condition and life expectansy.

-Susan 
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
2/23/2014 | 4:33:33 AM
3D-printed heart
David, 

This is no science fiction. :) 

"A team of cardiovascular scientists has announced it will be able to 3D print a whole heart from the recipients' own cells within a decade.

Bioprinting is advancing quite fast. There is a special bioprinter under construction for this, and it will be able to print a heart in three hours. Isn't it fascinating?

-Susan  
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
2/21/2014 | 5:12:59 PM
Re: Love the skull
Wake Forest is one of the leaders. It has a partnership with the US Army and some other organizations. It's trying, for example, to print skin directly onto the body to help burn and battle-injured victims. I believe they are experimenting with sensors, as are some of the other leading universities and bio tech firms, formed specifically to focus on this area. 
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Author
2/21/2014 | 5:03:16 PM
Re: Love the skull
Thanks, Alison. Is there any research being done tying sensor and 3D printing. That seems like it would open up a lot of possibilities.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
2/21/2014 | 4:58:52 PM
Re: Love the skull
Healthcare is one of the three leaders in 3D printing. In the next 10 years, it's going to be even more exciting, based on what the experts in this area are saying. It truly is amazing what researchers and doctors are doing in their labs and surgery theaters around the world. One of my favorites is the three-year-old back surgery. It happened such a long time ago, in tech years, and the gentleman is apparently going strong after his innovative operation.
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Author
2/21/2014 | 4:47:42 PM
Re: Love the skull
This is a remarkable slide show. I had no idea that 3D printing was so sophisticated and that healthcare is doing such remarkable things with it! 
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
2/21/2014 | 12:10:36 PM
Re: Love the skull
There is such a dearth of organs for transplant that researchers hope 3D printing could one day replace the need for the whole concept of the transplant waiting list.That woudl be fantastic.
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