The healthcare industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in 3D printing. According to London-based research consultancy IDTechX, approximately 43 percent (or, $3 billion) of the 3D printing industry's revenues of $ 7 billion in 2025 will be derived from healthcare. This is because 3D printers are used to make everything from prosthetic limbs to ears to exoskeletons for paraplegics.
Here are five body parts made using 3D printers:
Hands: South Africa native Richard Van As and American Ivan Owen from Washingston connected via the Internet to start Good Enough Tech (GET). Van As had lost the fingers on his right hand in a carpentry accident. Owen had experience designing mechanical arms. Together, they collaborated to make Robohands, the world's first robotic hand using 3D printers. Collaborating across continents was resource- and time-intensive until Stratasys' Makerbot loaned them two 3D printers from its Replicator series. That slashed the time required to make Robohands by more than half and, according to its website, enabled more than 200 people across the world.
Exoskeleton: Skier Amanda Boxtel was paralyzed from the waist down after a skiing accident in 1992. 3D printing company 3D Systems and Eksobionics teamed up to make an exoskeleton or a robotic 3D printed suit for her. The suit combined 3D Systems' software chops with Eksobionics' mechanical ability. First, 3D Systems' scanners were used to map the contours of Boxtel's body from waist down. Subsequently, Eksobionics added mechanical actuators to the design to make it wearable. The final suit was 3D printed with fine detailing to ensure that the skin was "able to breathe," according to Scott Summit, senior director for functional design at 3D Systems. The result: Boxtel was able to walk again after 22 years.
Ears: The hearing aid industry has already been transformed, thanks to 3D printers. Publicly-listed companies, such as Materialise, have pioneered 3D printed hearing aids in conjunction with hearing aid companies. Now, get ready for 3D printed ears. The first clinical trial for 3D printed ears will be conducted in Mumbai, India for a dozen children undergoing facial reconstruction. The ears have been developed by scientists at University College in London using 3D printing and have the power to "radically change organ transplants."
Heart: While it is not yet possible to 3D print a human heart, a simulation of the same has helped save a life. Surgeons at Morgan Stanley Hospital in New York City 3D printed a copy of a child's heart with an unusual structure and holes. Typically, surgeons get their first look at organs during the actual procedure itself. This can be problematic, especially when the organ itself, such as the case above, has an unusual formation. In this case, however, the copy proved to be a perfect prototype and helped surgeons strategize their operating procedure, reduce risk, and avoid complications during the actual surgery.
Liver: San Diego's Organovo has the taken the lead in 3D Bioprinting, a field which combines human biology with engineering. The company is publicly listed and describes itself as a 3D human tissues company. Earlier this year, it created the world's first liver tissue for research purposes. Currently under test, the tissue can be used to test toxicity levels for drugs and has the potentical to slash drug formulation and testing costs. Liver tissues, however, are just the start; With future advances in 3D bioprinting, Organovo will be able recreate entire organs.
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