Some of the most useful applications of 3D printing are in the field of prosthetics. In May 2013 a tracheal splint was printed for an infant who could not breath on his own. Since the operation the baby has been off ventilator support and has not needed it since. 3D printing allows prosthetics to be tailored exactly to the recipients needs; they can be as complex and personal as required with no added cost for customisation. 3D printed prosthetics are cheaper, more usable and more attractive than their generic predecessors. Here are some amazing examples of how it is changing people’s lives;

Oxford Performance Materials, an American organisation have been pioneering replacement bone materials. As of March 2013 they successfully replaced 75% of a patients skull with 3D printed material. The team have been given FDA approval to print bone replacements, which is a huge milestone for 3D printed applications in medicine, and is one of the first of its kind to get official approval.

The material is Polyetherketoneketone and it is lighter and stronger than human bone. One of the major benefits of being able to print these parts is the ability to include tiny surface details that encourage the growth of new cells and bone once it is implanted. The  FDA approval means the technology could be used to help wounded soldiers, car crash victims and even cancer patients in the future. The next step is to replicate and replace bones in other parts of the body.

Robohand, a 3D printed appendage has been developed to restore functionality to damaged hands while offering a cheaper, accessible alternative to current expensive prosthetics.

The Robohand has found a receptive audience in the form of children born with amniotic band syndrome, a disorder leaving them without fingers or toes at birth. The design is almost entirely 3d printable with only screws and a few pieces of plastic needed to complete and use it. The files for the Robohand are available on Thingiverse an online repository for 3D printable designs; accessible to anybody with an Internet connection and a 3D printer.

Similarly last year an exoskeleton for a two year old girl was printed to enable her to lift her own arms. The little girl was born with arthrogryposis and couldn’t do so without help of a supportive structure.

The beauty of the 3D printed Robohand and exoskeleton is when a child outgrows it, a scaled up version can be printed to replace it.  If a part breaks, a new part can be printed and fitted almost immediately at very little cost.

Eric Moger a sixty-year-oMr.Mogerld restaurant manager form the UK was diagnosed with an aggressive tumour beneath the left side of his face. He had emergency surgery to have it removed and the procedure left him without half of his face, losing parts of his jaw and cheekbone as well as his eye. Plastic surgery had failed Mr. Moger due to chemotherapy and radiotherapy procedures, which is often the case in similar patients. Andrew Dawood a dental surgeon, who had been using 3D printing technology to replicate his patient’s jawbones so he could practice surgical procedures, was asked if he could help.

A titanium scaffold was printed to replace the missing bone. Rods to keep the scaffold in place and a plastic plate to seal his mouth so he could eat and drink were also printed. Using computer software Dawood recreated the left side of Mr. Moger’s face and was able to print it off in plastic to use as a mould. The mould was then used to cast a realistic facial mask in silicone to cover the titanium plate. Silicone is currently with incompatible with 3D printing but Dawood hopes to develop the technology, which would speed up the process dramatically.


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