3D printing – The next prescription in the world of medicine

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Additive manufacturing or “3D printing” is the technology of the future and has started to impact the medical industry. By definition, 3D printing is the process of creating three dimensional objects by using a printer. Objects can be of almost any shape or geometry and are produced using digital model data from a 3-dimensional model or another electronic data source. Despite not having a lot of widespread adoption of 3D printing, this technology can impact the industry in a big way. It can lead to reduced treatment costs, better and faster services at hospitals and improved status of healthcare in India.

3D printing has utility in different areas of medicine.  Some uses of this already in place include 3D printed skin for burn victims and airway splints for babies with tracheobronchomalacia, a disease where the lungs may collapse. The splints prevent them from collapsing. Trials are already in place to print artificial organs like hearts, kidneys, lungs, livers which will have no chances of rejection as they will be made from the same human’s cells. Scientists are also using 3D printing to make bionic ears to hear radio frequencies far beyond the range of normal human capability. It can also be used to make prosthetics and personalized drug dosages.

As of now, this technology hasn’t yet entered onto the grounds of even the best hospitals in the India, but there are still some promising startups based out of Bangalore who are pioneering the use of this exponential technology.

In 2015, at Sakra World Hospital Bengaluru, a team of doctors performed a skull expansion surgery for a 5-month-old baby and used a post surgery helmet which was 3D printed by a company Osteo 3D from Bangalore, at a fraction of cost and time as in previous cases. It costs Rs 20000 and 3-4 days instead of Rs 1.5 -2 lakhs and 2-3 weeks importing it from US. The speed and cost of manufacturing these medical models has been brought down more than 10 times.

As of now, 3D printing is not very widespread and there needs to be a lot of awareness built in the medical world to ensure that medical professionals themselves are up to speed with the technology because it is their clinical experience that will be needed to drive its successful application.

There are also hindrances such as cost and regulations but, it will slowly disrupt the medical world in a very positive way and doctors will be prescribing it soon.