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3D Printing Makes Medical Devices More Personal

Posted on December 10th, 2020 by in Pharma R&D

Personalized medicine is a major trend in pharmaceutical R&D—and it’s transforming the way we think of therapeutics. Unlocking the secrets of the genome has made it possible to create treatments for disease that are more suited to the individual. But personalized medicine isn’t a concept that only applies to drug therapies. It is also highly relevant in the area of medical devices.

Many patients depend on medical devices to help them recover from or manage diseases and medical conditions. These devices can range from cranial implants to pacemakers. And, as with one-size-fits-all therapeutics, even the best medical devices have not always worked as hoped for every patient. However, the personalized approach allows for tailoring certain devices to better serve the individual.

Medical devices and prosthetics

The advent of additive manufacturing (more commonly known as 3D printing) has been one of the key developments in enabling personalized medical devices. Previously, it wasn’t realistic to expect manufacturers to produce highly customized versions of one basic type of medical device. But 3D printing makes the process much quicker and more affordable, and can provide a design to fit the patient perfectly. ConforMIS custom knee implants, for instance, use 3D bone scanning and printing technology to produce the implant, even printing custom tools for the surgeon to use in the procedure.

3D printing is also helping to make prosthetics that are more effective and better suited to the patient. In a journal article published in Procedia CIRP, which includes a case study of a prosthetic arm, the authors wrote that: “Personalized medicine will allow for a reduction of rejection levels, an increase of patient’s quality of life and to a reduction or a delaying of downstream problems.”

Bioprinting

Although 3D printing actual human organs is still only a dream, it is not completely the stuff of science fiction anymore. The more delicate and still-developing version of 3D printing known as bioprinting is a process of recreating tissue for a patient. It involves using “bio-inks” and 3D printing techniques to print structures made of biomaterials and cells. In time, bioprinting could replace autografts. And, perhaps one day, people in need of an organ replacement will be able to turn to bioprinting rather than waiting for a donor match.

Models

3D printing is also being used to create precise models, which is another way to make medicine more personalized. A unique model replica of a patient’s organ can be used for diagnostic purposes or to help doctors prepare for a surgery. Models like this also have incredible implications for research. If researchers can use 3D scanning and printing to replicate the organ of a particular type of patient suffering from a particular type of cancer, for example, then they can study that model to learn more and perhaps develop better personalized treatments.

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