We recently reported on a blood recyling device developed and marketed by British company Brightwake Ltd. that made extensive use of 3D printing to produce prototype parts. The technology resulted in tremendous cost savings and accelerated time to market, according to the firm. The experience led the company's director of R&D to unabashedly proclaim that 3D printing is "the future of medical manufacturing." We agree wholeheartedly.
Here are five more examples of how innovators around the globe are using 3D printing to redefine the boundaries of medical technology.
Shape-shifting cochlear implants
Laser additive manufacturing is being used by scientists at Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH; Hannover, Germany), in cooperation with the Hannover Medical School, to develop cochlear implants that change shape to facilitate insertion.
Inserting an implant into the cochlea is a delicate procedure that runs the risk of destroying intact sensory cells and further impairing the patient's hearing. Surgeons currently use micrometer-scale cochlea models produced by LAM technology to rehearse the procedure. The next step is to 3D print the shape-shifting implants themselves.
LAM technology also enables the manufacture of temporary implants in the form of magnesium scaffolds that gradually resorb as new bone cells grow. The implants are suited for maxillofacial applications, because they can be shaped to match the skull and facial structure of the patient. Following surgery, the bioresorbable implants stabilize the tissue while new bone cells are generated.
LZH recently showcased its technology at the massive Hannover Fair.