Maritza Palos-Lopez • 2021 Science Communication Series Cohort
You are in need of a heart transplant and there used to be the need for trials with your own health at risk. Now, the doctors are ordering a heart transplant with tissues of your own, but not at the risk of your survival. The trials and errors were already run through with the use of the 3D printer. There is no more fear, yet a willingness to let a 3D printer do its work.
Before this type of option was not feasible, yet alone a thought. There has been a rise with the innovation of 3D printers relevant to today. During the beginning of the pandemic, there were a surge of PPE (personal protective equipment) causing a need for more supply. Suddenly everyone around the world was anxious to create PPE for forefront healthcare and essential workers, making it a race to supply the most basic PPE needed to survive during the deathly pandemic yet alone to protect themselves. Though it took a while, the supply of PPE was increased which was in part because of the PPE made by 3D printers. In fact, Ford Motor Company was able to distribute 3D printed PPE at the high rate of more than 1,000,000 face masks per week in Plymouth, United Kingdom . The best part of this may be that the 3D printing blueprints for creation of these masks was available for anyone to buy and thus make masks at home.
Biotechnology advances have already been well underway, making the 3D printer a helpful tool to advancements in health applications. Another exciting avenue through which 3D printers can be helpful is for pre surgery planning. Human tissue-like material can now be made with 3D printers and personalized to a patient, which reduces the operating time and post surgery procedures . As we all know, surgical procedures are time consuming and can be risky, with post surgery procedures compounding the stress and monetary costs. Both of which are very costly. process, and post surgery procedures causing more stress or even money to the overall process. This ultimately saves the patients’ risk too.
Many may ask how it is that 3D printers are allowing increased successes in medical procedures. There have been many occasions where these applications have improved medical techniques. For example, there was a case where a patient underwent surgery for an ankle replacement, and the 3D printer provided a model that helped doctors understand the defect and allowed the hands-on pre-surgery planning to happen . In another case, a custom-fabricated polycaprolactone respiratory tract splint to prevent the bronchus from collapsing in a surgery was created and allowed for a successful surgery . These examples demonstrate that 3D printing can improve patients’ surgeries. With findings like this, it can be more comforting to know this tool can help in the long run for better turned out surgeries and procedures.
Though this sounds like an innovative move towards growth in the medicine world, there is also an uglier side to this that many have shed light upon. Illegal 3D printing can come along with this new technology, hence why it has yet to get the approval of the FDA . What can make it illegal is the creation of counterfeit medical devices and medicinal drugs . More regulation by authorities and departments of health would be required to prevent such illegal actions to allow for the approval and use of 3D printing in medical applications. Such dangers of 3D printing have been presented as the act of replicas of body parts without the right consent and for illegal use (find the source). This poses an extreme threat due to HIPPA rules. Not to mention access to this material requires careful attainment for proper use for patients and medical providers. With new innovations come barriers, however that is still not preventing the progress of how far this technology has come to almost save mankind; at least in one form or another. Approval of certain applications must still be approved after all. As further explained, 3D printing have only reached a laboratory level and still have a long way to achieve clinical application in terms of FDA approval . This will kickstart a new start to technology’s purpose in the medicinal world when new procedures and regulations are created to approve this for use.
Despite the potential threat of using 3D printers for illegal purposes there is still a hopeful future for 3D printing to become a helpful innovative tool for achievements. Let’s take more cases into consideration. Modifications for treatment for a young boy were made which included creating a 3D printed heart model which permitted the simulation of a procedure where small stent opens up blood vessels in the heart that have been narrowed by the buildup of plaque . This helped determine the placement of the stent, its length, and size in the actual procedure . Taking more procedures into consideration, another instance to consider is where 3D printers were used to create digital and anatomical models to plan a heart transplant for two patients that allowed the planning for heart transplantation . This decreased procedure time and ultimately also saved money and decreased risks. This ultimately can really reduce the patients’ stresses that can come with surgeries.
Surely 3D printers uphold the hope for revamping the medicinal world in creating materials to improve someone’s health condition. Needing a heart transplant may look a lot different a few steps down the line with the applications that 3D printing has discovered. Successful models of human tissues and surgery planning have shown 3D printing’s potential for use in medical situations. Despite the need for approval for use, it has still been a helpful tool in the process of planning surgeries and learning as more researchers and doctors come into use with them. 3D printing is an innovation moving in the right direction, with future applications for improving our health and use in procedures down a near future. The heart transplant that once came with complicated terms can hopefully turn towards less complications and stresses, thanks to the path 3D printing is taking.
As 3D printing has made its way in the spotlight for improving medical applications, with it comes a grappling concern of ethics being the culprit. We do realize that in order for it to be approved, many speculations would have to be considered to be able to be approved by medical professionals. As can be assumed, proper ethical guidelines must come into play which essentially happens with a conversation about what specific implications would look like. Only after that will 3d printers be approved to create patients’ procedures easier in their unique way.
The challenge that comes with 3d printers for one, is the fact that we cannot fully rely on printers to potentially replace a person’s damaged artery for example. Fraudulent behavior with 3d printers has been a rising concern, such as printing illegal items guns, gun magazines, master keys, and ATM skimmers. It is also of high concern that they are being used for counterfeit medical devices or medications. With the approval of even using medical devices and medications, the FDA’s approval of this would be a long journey that has to do with legal considerations that must be put into place . Until then, the considerations of 3d printing applications could take a while so that there are no unusual uses of them in the near future. In due time, strides towards creating the right regulations for approval will be seamless. Once this is a reality and is approved, there will be a lot more hope for the future in healthcare in terms of saving time and money for patients’ and health practitioners.
Oladapo, B., Ismail, S., Afolalu, T., Olawade, D., & Zahedi, M. (2021, January 15). Review on 3d printing: Fight against covid-19. Retrieved April 06, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7578746/
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