By Amanda Kaestner
Although 3D printing emerged in the 1980s, recent developments have transformed what was once a cheap way to quickly produce prototypes into a game-changing technology. In particular, 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, allows the production of fully customized objects through a process of layering based on a digital model.
For seniors, as healthcare reporter Alison Diana notes, this will translate into the reduced costs and improved quality of individually customized healthcareÂ through personalized devices, prosthetics, surgeries, and overall healthier lifestyles.
3D printing has already led to the personalization of medical devices that are tailored to individual patients. This is most obviously demonstrated by the large scale application of this technology to hearing aid production. Rather than hand-making inner ear molds, hearing specialists can now scan and produce a model that vastly decreases the time it takes to make hearing aids designed specifically for each patient.
In addition, 3D printing allows for the personalization of dental implants, crowns, and braces, since they can be produced using custom molds for each wearer.
This technology also makes it possible for doctors to create models of patientâ€™s anatomy so that they can better prepare for surgery. In particular, additive manufacturing allows them to scan and print these models, as well as custom guides, all of which ensure accuracy during operations. With patient-specific hip, knee, and other bone replacements, surgeons are further able to remove as little bone as possible, leading to quicker recovery times and better long-term function.
As science journalist Kathryn Doyle notes, in addition to assistive devices, 3D printing has advanced bespoke prosthetics that mimic actual bone and cartilage. In contrast to the naked hardware of their foam-covered predecessors, newer prosthetics are based on body scans to ensure symmetry and best fit.
They can also be coated in a variety of materials, including leather and metal. When combined with improved surgery procedures, this has made it possible for an 83-year-old woman to have a replacement lower jaw in 2011 that allows for the regrowth of nerves and muscles, as detailed in DeZeen Magazine series on 3D printing.
At the research level, 3D printing is being used for cell biology and tissue engineering. For example, Cornell University researchers were recently able to create a functioning artificial ear by creating a mold based on ear scans, injecting it with collagen, and then using it as the base for cartilage growth.
This technology can also potentially address the growing global shortage of transplant organs; although the creation of fully functioning organs is still far in the future, scientists have been able to print living tissue with additive manufacturing. The printer lays layer upon layer of cells upon scaffolding until the cells fuse and provide the basis for tissues to be grown. This will be the basis for printing supplemental tissues to patch heart conditions, assist cartilage in joint repair, or even speed nerve grafts and regeneration.
Technology and innovation is intended to make living more efficient and advanced. With 3D printing, all age groups will find benefits in medicine. In the-not-to-distant future, senior citizens will begin to reap the quality regenerative health benefits 3D printing can offer at more reasonable price, leading to longevity and increased peace of mind.