Telemedicine – a promising area for 3D printing

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Posted on May 13, 2014

The first 3D printer was designed by Charles W. Hull in 1984, and nowadays this inventions has made a significant change in manufacturing of various physical models and products. Researchers P. Giacomelli and A. Smedberg claim in their study that the growing popularity of this creation was possible for two reasons. First of all, the 3D technology provided the means for the society to implement its creativity, so there was no reason to buy the products from the specific companies anymore. Also, this technology – or, more precisely, the source of digital 3D drawings – became available on the World Wide Web, where people can share the recipes to build 3D printings.

A wall of miniature 3D printed figures in the new exhibition 3D: Printing the Future. Image credit: Science Museum

A wall of miniature 3D printed figures in the new exhibition 3D: Printing the Future. Image credit: Science Museum

While it is becoming more and more available, the researchers suggest that the 3D printing technology will become more cheaper with the time. This would mean that the usage of 3D printers will grow. Telemedicine is one of the newest additions to a pool of promising areas, where 3D printing can be applied. The authors of the study listed several trends of 3D printing in telemedicine that have already been adapted.

One of the first notable cases, when a typical 3D printer was used for a surgery purposes out of the laboratory, was to treat a baby diagnosed with a tracheobronchomalacia, which basically causes a difficulty to breath. A splint, which was needed to allow normal ventilation flow, was 3D printed and successfully adapted.

Another case – when a girl about 6 years old had an inborn osteochondroma, which is basically a degenerative joint disease, and another illness, which negatively affects the skeletal system. With a help of 3D printing, a model of the scapula was created using DICOM, which manipulates high resolutions images of human body. So it helped the doctor to see if the 3D printed tumor can actually be operated on before starting the actual surgery.

3D printing of human tissue for implantation is another promising area, the researchers state. Even thought it might be too difficult to print a heart or a liver that can not be separated from other organs, a promising area here is the production of bone replacements, especially when hip surgeries are becoming more and more widespread and needed.

Also, it is already possible to print the pharmaceutical products effectively. Most surprisingly, it is possible even using a low-cost 3D printer, as professor Leroy Cronin has proved in his study.

When 3D printers are becoming more available for medical society, it is going to be a big issue to discuss sanitary standards required to work in way that would be safe for a patient. Probably, new laws will have to be created to enjoy these new possibilities in telemedicine.

Original research article can be found at the website of Cornell University.