The production of affordable and lightweight custom prosthetics and implants using 3D printing has paved the way for medical device innovation
Standard designs for surgical implants and prosthetic limbs are often inadequate and do not accommodate complex cases. 3D printing provides an effective solution for patients and healthcare professionals to make bespoke implants and prostheses based on patient data, like an x-ray scan, at a fraction of the time and cost of traditionally manufactured items.
Implants for unique body parts, such as the ear canal, require customization to allow for optimal function and must be made individually. At present, 3D printing technology produces 99% of all hearing aids in the UK and Europe, which is a testament to its ability to cater to individual patient differences. Similarly, surgical implants are another type of implant where unique requirements make it difficult to have standard designs. Skull implants, for example, must be tailored by the surgeon to the proper size and shape to ensure proper fit. There are companies such as Oxford Performance Materials who fill the noticeable market demand by 3D-printing biomedical implants made from advanced polymers that are a perfect fit based on patient image data.
Consumers of prosthetics stand to gain the most from 3D printing. Custom limb prosthetic replacement for an amputee over a lifetime is very expensive, particularly for growing young amputees. To alleviate this burden, a not-for-profit group, e-NABLE, is using 3D printing technology to make free prosthetic upper limbs composed of strong, but light materials for children and adults in need. The James Dyson Foundation has recently acknowledged the impact of 3D printing to solve the need for affordable prosthetics by awarding the 2015 UK James Dyson Award to a company named Open Bionics for its design of a 3D-printed bionic hand that will allow amputees gain greater independence. These examples above indicate that 3D printing is having a significant impact on the medical device industry and will continue to do so to cater to individual patients.
Oxford Performance Materials Website: www.oxfordpm.com
e-NABLE Website: http://enablingthefuture.org/
James Dyson Award UK winner announcement: https://www.facebook.com/JamesDysonFoundation
Ventola, CL. Medical Applications for 3D printing: Current and Projected Uses. Pharmacy and Therapeutics, Volume 39, Issue 10, Pages 704-711, 2014.
Banks J. Adding value in additive manufacturing: Researchers in the United Kingdom and Europe look to 3D printing for customization. IEEE Pulse, Volume 4, Issue 6, Pages 22–26, 2013.
Written by Fiona Wong, PhD