2, Vascular Surgery, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Leeds, , United Kingdom
3, Division of Surgery, University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire/University of Warwick, Coventry/Warwick, , United Kingdom
The burgeoning field of 3D printing is rapidly invading the medical sphere with an ever-expanding portfolio of applications in healthcare. Since Charles Hull invented stereolithography in the early 1980s, this printing technology has evolved greatly, and to an exponential degree, in the last decade.
The applications of 3D printing in medicine are many, and growing. In this talk, some important uses of the technology will be presented, and, as time permits, discussed from a clinician-scientist’s perspective.
In surgery, 3D printing is being increasingly utilised in patient-specific surgical planning to aid intraoperative navigation in complex operative procedures, using precise personalized anatomical information; in producing implants and prostheses; and in educating and training young surgeons.
Other applications include 3D bio- and molecular printing of functional living constructs and organs, in drug delivery, and for custom-made medical equipment and products eg surgical tools and instruments.
Several groups of researchers, including clinician-scientists, are working on exciting developments in areas embracing all aspects of patient care from surgical procedure planning to printing scaffolds and tissues for clinical implantation. Whilst currently there is widespread interest in harnessing this technology in all fields of medicine, in order to realize the full potential of 3D printing, it is perhaps important to prioritize areas in which to focus our research and development endeavours. Clinician involvement in this process is vital, so that minds can be focused on unmet clinical needs.
Currently, despite the huge strides made by 3D printing in recent years, there remain challenges for the routine implementation of this technology in the clinical sphere; these include the time taken to prepare the object or device ie long processing times (and hence, limited applicability in the urgent and emergency settings), the accuracy of the devices or models produced, the expense of doing so (despite the decreasing costs of the printers) and importantly, the associated regulatory aspects.
The clinical community is both excited by the promise of what 3D printing can deliver in terms of patient care, and wary of some of the potential dangers of wholly embracing this new field. Thus, it is important for clinicians, scientists and industry to develop a scientifically and socially conscious platform from which to foster the further development of this technology within clearly defined and ethically responsible boundaries. We should jointly strive to achieve this goal so that the promise that 3D printing holds for improved healthcare, is realized.