In the last few years, 3D printers became a household name. Although the technology has existed for over 20 years now, it’s only in the previous few where they became widespread public knowledge.
Even if we aren’t aware of it, there is likely something in our own homes that’s the product of 3D printing.
What also comes as a surprise to many Americans is that 3D printing is making its way into medicine. Understanding how 3D printers work and current application helps lay the foundation for understanding the medical industry’s future.
What are 3D printers?
3D printers are remarkable pieces of machinery that can print objects using three dimensions. This ability differs from traditional printers that can only ink images onto paper. The technology allows users to create virtually any shape they want.
They work by printing out an object in layers, often using a special type of plastic – 3D filament plastic. These plastics come in a whole variety of different colors and levels of durability, offering applications to a wide variety of projects.
Initially, these printers were pretty exclusive items that were expensive to obtain. Over the years, engineers developed relatively inexpensive models affordable enough to have in your own home. You, too, could own your own 3D printer for about the price of a laptop!
In many ways, the only limit to a 3D printer is imagination. They’ve become an invaluable tool for people looking to mass-produce their artwork or simple tools. Likewise, many large factories have turned to 3D printing for cheap mass production.
Artists and business people aren’t the only people using their creativity, though. Many scientists found innovative and life-changing uses for these devices.
3D printers in Veterinary Science
Veterinary medicine is one field that benefited significantly form 3D printers. Especially when it comes to conservation efforts, resources can be a significant limiting factor. When rescuers need costly equipment that requires expert creation, the project’s fate usually falls in the hands of crowdfunding efforts.
One such costly thing is an animal prosthetic.
Like human prosthetics, animal prosthetics are incredibly expensive. In some ways, it’s even more challenging to obtain because there are so few specialists in the field.
When an animal loses a limb or breaks their shell, their survival is in jeopardy and often left in the hands of fate. Traditionally, animals missing a crucial component of their anatomy were left to attempt to survive without or euthanized.
If the animals weren’t already domesticated in almost all cases, veterinarians forced injured animals to remain in captivity. Frankly, a missing foot or broken shell would mean certain death. With an inability to hunt food or fight back, animals were vulnerable to starvation, disease, and predication.
Some ingenious animal lovers realized the potential 3D printing offered. 3D printing was affordable, fast, durable, and easy to customize. Better yet, templates were incredibly easy to share, meaning you didn’t need to be a veterinary expert to give an animal a new chance at life.
There are several notable cases of 3D printing saving animals. Beauty, the bald eagle who had her beak shot off, and Daffodil, the puppy born without front legs, are two famous cases.
Just as 3D printing changed many animals’ lives, it can change the lives of many of us.
3D printing in Modern Medicine
3D printing techniques are crucial in many fields of medicine. To bring the conversation back to prosthetics – human prosthetics are incredibly expensive. These life-changing devices are essential for many thousands of Americans who suffer from both congenital disabilities and injury.
Having a prosthetic is so much more than a superficial treatment. Prosthetics help gains a sense of independence in one’s life. With some training, they allow someone to function at a higher level of normalcy.
Not all prosthetics are equal, though. Ill-fitting prosthetics can lead to many more problems in the long run. After prolonged use, patients may find themselves needing additional pain management from lower back pain. This back pain is sometimes the result of bad posture and awkwardly shifted weight.
Patients may feel the need to use ill-fitting prosthetics due to the price. Where a traditional prosthetic can cost thousands of dollars – 3D printers offer a much more affordable option. A 3D printed prosthetic only costs around $50. That way, you save money on your artificial limb as well as a trip to the chiropractor!
In addition to prosthetics, 3D printing creates breathable casts and even rehabilitation devices for those suffering from ALS or whiplash.
3D printing is not limited to external devices.
There are some technologies currently on the market that needed skeletal argumentation. CT-Bone is a fantastic example of such innovation. By using superior materials, patients can get surgery using 3D printed implants that become bone over time!
3D Printing in the Future
Science advances at an unbelievable pace, and groundbreaking research surprises us every day. Many things that seem like science fiction are only a few studies away.
In terms of 3D printing, the big projects revolve around 3D printing soft tissues. Specifically, researchers want to print out living tissues. If this becomes successful, it means doctors would be able to print out new organs for you without waiting for a transplant.
While we aren’t quite there yet, it’s only a matter of time before 3D printers become a staple in clinics across the nation.
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