Feb. 16, 2015 | Alec

While 3D printing technology has a lot of potential for the medical sector, most of its groundbreaking applications – specifically bio-printing of skin and organ tissue – will take years to produce working medical alternatives. But 3D printing technology is already occasionally being used by doctors in two specific ways: to produce highly accurate anatomical models to help doctors prepare for surgeries, and to produce perfect implants.

While that second application is currently largely being done in unique and strange cases – such as this Chinese man whose skull was largely destroyed in an accident – that could be changing in the near future. For academic doctors and surgeons from the University of Nevada (Las Vegas) are currently in talks with the US military to use that application on a very large scale.

In fact, the proposals call for computed tomography (CT) scans to be made of every soldier in active service. These will be used to create so-called ‘virtual twins’ of soldiers before deployment, and will enable surgeons in field hospitals to perform reconstructive surgery as soon as possible. These CT scans can also be used to, should that be necessary, produce 3D printed replicas of missing or shattered bones and directly implant them into the patient.

While 3D printing is already occasionally used in that manner, this scheme could see it deployed on a very large scale. "The idea is to image someone when they are in a healthy state so that the data is available if it’s needed at a later point," says Dr James Mah, clinical professor at the University of Nevada. "We have soldiers who get injured. They lose limbs and other tissues and it’s a challenge to reconstruct them in the field. But if they are imaged beforehand, you can send that over the internet and have a 3D printer in the field to produce the bone," he explains.

Mah discussed the proposal at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Jose, where he also showed off a table-sized touchscreen computer that enables doctors to easily work with full-scale 3D images of the human body. This clever machine (made by Anatomage in San Jose) can strip down layers and layers of human tissue, bone structures, organs and blood vessels – and is therefore great for quickly preparing complex surgeries. While that machine will cost the US military quite a bit (£45,000), the full body scans of soldiers could cost as little as $100 per person.

The Anatomage 3D slicing machine in action.

This approach can be highly beneficial to soldiers, who usually suffer injuries that need to be treated as soon as possible. But the same 3D printing approach could be used to recreate accurate prosthetics that perfectly align to the body, or could even be used to produce perfectly fitting hard masks. These are typically worn by soldiers when treating facial burns to control the contours of the healing tissue, but would be more effective if perfectly fitting. And as more than 900 US troops received serious burns in Iraq or Afghanistan (typically from roadside bombs), many could be ready to benefit from 3D printing.

Of course civilians could really benefit from full-body CT scans that can be used in any type of medical emergency too, though that is currently still far too expensive to widely deploy. But throughout the twentieth century surgical innovations were largely made by army doctors working in tents filled with wounded soldiers, before being copied in civilian hospitals. Perhaps this is just a first step towards more personalized healthcare, complete with individual CT scans and 3D printing technology?



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to

3ders.org Feeds 3ders.org twitter 3ders.org facebook   

About 3Ders.org

3Ders.org provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive