Mariam Abdel-Baset—McMaster Life Sciences 2023
Close your eyes and think of a hospital. What is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it doctors and nurses running around from room to room? Do you think of a hospital drama and your favourite character? Or is it a big and modern building filled with a bunch of high-tech equipment.
It is no secret that hospitals are rely on many types of high-tech equipment to ensure that patients are provided with the best of care. From robots that perform remote concussion evaluations, to proton beam therapy that can be used to treat cancer, to labs that can process over 1,000 COVID-19 tests in a single day, it’s safe to say that technology and healthcare go hand in hand (1). As the largest demographic group in many countries is older adults, hospitals are in constant need of novel and innovative technology to treat them. To top, the increasing number of COVID-19 cases has strained hospital staff and resources, increasing the need for innovative technology.
Medical professionals must ask themselves what piece of technology has such potential to be the key in solving many of these medical problems? What tool has the potential of shaping the future of healthcare?
The answer to this question is 3D printing.
3D printing has come a long way in the last couple decades. It has evolved from a novel and unheard-of tool to a machine that can be found in many hospitals, offices and even homes. Today, 3D printing is used in numerous ways throughout hospitals. For example, it is used to cost effectively print materials such as bandages, stents, casts, and various surgical tools (2)! 3D printing is also used to make prosthetics, lowering the financial burden on patients from tens of thousands of dollars, to only hundreds of dollars. This makes medicine more accessible to many more individuals around the world (3). This amazing tool has also played a major role in supporting hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic, as 3D printing was used to mass produce additional respirators – a device essential in the treatment of patients suffering from respiratory symptoms associated with severe COVID-19 infection.
Today, many researchers and doctors are looking at 3D printing to bridge the gap between patients requiring organ transplantation and the absence of suitable organ donors. As a result, organ transplantation waitlists can be eliminated, and individuals in need can receive a heart, lung, or kidney. Some researchers are even looking to print tissue, bones, heart valves and much more (4). At the University of Madrid, researchers have begun developing a prototype 3D printer that can print skin, which could potentially be used for accident or burn victims (5). Researchers across the world are pushing the limits of 3D printing every day. With printing costs being much cheaper than acquiring a donated organ, millions of more people may be able to afford such procedures.
At this rate, printing parts of organs is not a question of “if”, but rather “when”. In 2020, the 3D printing market was valued at $12.6 billion, and it is only estimated to keep growing (6). The value of the 3D printing is expected to increase by 17% by 2023, and with it more advances in health care are predicted to follow (6). Time will only tell what will happen to the future of healthcare, but my guess is that 3D printing will play a huge role in it.
- Upkeep. What are the Most Technologically Advanced Hospitals and How Are They Taking on Covid-19? 2020. [Internet] Available from: https://www.upkeep.com/answers/healthcare/top_technologically_advanced_hospitals
- Manufacturing Tomorrow. The Massive Potential of 3D Printing in the Healthcare Industry. 2020. [Internet] Available from: https://www.manufacturingtomorrow.com/story/2020/04/the-massive-potential-of-3d-printing-in-the-healthcare-industry/15155/
- General Electric. How 3D Printing Could Bend the Cost Curve in Healthcare. 2017. [Internet]. Available from: https://www.ge.com/news/reports/3d-printing-bend-cost-curve-healthcare
- The Medical Futurist. 3D Printing in Medicine and Healthcare – The Ultimate List In 2021. 2021. [Internet]. Available from https://medicalfuturist.com/3d-printing-in-medicine-and-healthcare/
- University of Madrid. 3-D bioprinter to print human skin. ScienceDaily. 2017. [Internet]. Available from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170123090630.htm
- Statistica. Global 3D printing products and services market size from 2020 to 2026. 2021. [Internet]. Available from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/315386/global-market-for-3d-printers/