3-D Printing Changes the Face of Medicine

By Jason Deng, edited by Kate Jeong

The average 3-D printer prints out plastic models and figurines, but doctors have used this “miracle machine” to create fully-functional organs dubbed “plastic cadavers” and new surgical tools, some that are even the size of your thumb. 

Printing Organs

When we first started out with 3-D printing in the field of medicine, we created artificial teeth and prosthetic limbs. Now with the advancements we have made now, these innovations are just “your old man’s dentures and a stump”. For instance, present-day prosthetic limbs are electric and bear a closer resemblance to an actual leg than a stump. 

It’s not just prosthetic limbs and artificial teeth that we are creating. Just a few months ago in May, scientists successfully printed out an organ that mimics the lungs. This is a huge milestone as “one of the biggest roadblocks to generating organ tissue was the inability to recreate the complex vascular networks that supply nutrients to densely populated tissue” (Jordan Miller, assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice’s Brown School of Engineering). This type of innovation can lead to the printing of hearts, lungs, and other organs that rely on vascular networks to function. 

New Surgical Tools

The great benefit of 3-D printing is its unlimited capabilities and versatility. Its ability to allow us to manipulate the plastic or material to any extent is extremely useful. For instance, with the “miracle machine” doctors can create special surgical tools with certain qualities and shapes that are designed to handle specific jobs. With this ability to create practically anything that we may need and propagate it while in the medical field in a small amount of time, we will be able to reduce the number of organ transplants and money that is needed in medicine. 

All in all 3-D printers are the vanguard of medical innovation and can greatly reduce the mortality rate of surgical operations. They can print out organs, bringing down the number of transplants needed in the U.S, and can create much needed surgical tools that are cheaper than the conventional ones we have now. With these printers, we can change the face of medicine from 2-D to 3-D!

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