3D Printing: The Human Future?


Image:Katie Scott, Wired.com

Remembered years back when we first had metal or joint implants? Remembered how delightful we are as one? For last 10 years (almost), a new type of technology developed for the good use in medical and forensics realm (not so much on trading, especially when you worry about counterfeit goods)– 3D Printing.

According to Butler from the Guardian, 3D printing is now mostly used in automotive industry where they help produce prototypes, and of course the next will be aerospace to provide lighter materials but create the same function for the complex parts of airplanes.

Yet, growth of 3D printer is demanding because the increase of likelihood to use in the medical sector as implants.

The use of 3D printing technology on human body has secretly and silently approached us since 2011. David MacNeal collected some data from varies sources, the earliest traces back to the Jaw implant in Netherlands. An 83-year old woman in Netherlands got an infected jaw, and given her high age, the risk for traditional 15-hour long replacement surgery is sky-high. The doctor then helped her contacted the company and had her jaw printed in titanium dust, and the surgery (for installation) is only four hours.

In 2013, a man lost 75 percent of his cranium, and a company created a new skull for him with a material called polyetherketoneketone, encourages bone growth. Alike the story in 2013, in 2014 both in Belgium and China, had 3-D implanted lost bone in shoulder and the vertebra respectively. These cases all have a common: no additional bones are required to be removed before the surgery.

3D printing make the idea of surgery, namely body parts replacement surgery less invasive. The material they choose to “print on” can also be beneficial to the natural bone growth. The implant would not grow, for sure, but the bone remodeling process definitely grow around the implant. And of course, save time from surgery.

Honestly, printing the entire organ is quite impossible for now, but the captioned use, even in the realm of cosmetics or drugs are soon be ready.

In this month, 3D printing helped save a baby life. The baby has a severe and complicated heart problem. Instead of printing the heart from the 3D printer (since it is not developed yet), the doctor use the 3D printing technology on getting a realistic 3D scan of the problematic heart. This allows the doctor get a 100% understanding from the baby situation before opening the little guy up. In turn, the baby just need one single surgery, instead of 3-4 surgeries to be cured.

May be before printing a whole organ for implantation, using the technology as a guide for surgery or even instead of x-ray (radiation!)will be more favorable. But needless to say, it remarks one big step towards less invasive medical care.


Butler, Sarah. Medical implants and printable body parts to drive 3D printer growth.

MacNeal, David. The Strange and radical new world of 3-D printed body parts.

Starr, Michelle. 3D-printed heart saves baby’s life.

Whitwam, Ryan. World’s first 3D printed vertebra implanted in 12-year-old boy.

****Update on 28 OCT 2014

3D Printing Takes the Place of Traditional Clay Modeling in Forensic Facial Reconstruction