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Every year, 3D printing offers more and more applications in the healthcare field helping to save and improve lives in ways never imagined up to now. In fact, the 3D printing has been used in a wide range of healthcare settings including, but not limited to cardiothoracic surgery, cardiology, gastroenterology, neurosurgery, oral and maxillofacial surgery, ophthalmology, otolaryngology, orthopaedic surgery, plastic surgery, podiatry, pulmonology, radiation oncology, transplant surgery, urology , and vascular surgery .

Thanks to the different benefits that this technology could induce in the field, the main direct applications of 3D printing in the medical and clinical field are as follows :

  1. Used for personalized presurgical/treatment and for preoperative planning. This will lead to a multistep procedure that, integrating clinical    and imaging information, will determine the best therapeutic option. Several studies have demonstrated that patient-specific presurgical planning may potentially reduce time spent in the operating room (OR) and result in fewer complications. Moreover, this may lead to reduced postoperative stays, decreased reintervention rates, and lower healthcare costs. The 3D-printing technology allows to provide to the surgeon a physical 3D model of the desired patient anatomy that could be used to accurately plan the surgical approach along with cross-sectional imaging or, alternatively, modelling custom prosthetics (or surgical tool) based on patient-specific anatomy. In this way, a better understanding of a complex anatomy unique to each case is allowed. Furthermore, the 3D printing gives the possibility to choose before the implantation the size of the prostheses components with very high accuracy.
  2. Customize surgical tools and prostheses: the 3D printing can be used to manufacture custom implants or surgical guides and instruments. Therefore, the customization of surgical tools and prostheses means a reduction of cost given by the additive manufacturing technique.
  3. Study of osteoporotic conditions: following a pharmacological treatment, 3D printing is useful in validating the results achieved by the patient. This enables a more accurate estimation of patientʼs bone condition and a better decision on the surgical treatment.
  4. Testing different device in specific pathways: a clear example is the reproduction of different vascular patterns to test the effectiveness of a cardiovascular system used to treat peripheral and coronary artery disease. In this way, the 3D printing enables us to quickly produce prototypes of new design concepts or improvements to existing devices.
  5. Improving medical education: 3D-printed patient-specific models have demonstrated that they can increase performance and foster rapid learning, while significantly ameliorating the knowledge, management, and confidence of the trainees regardless of the area of expertise. The benefits of 3D printing in education are the reproducibility and safety of the 3D-printed model with respect to the cadaver dissection, the possibility to model different physiologic and pathologic anatomy from a huge dataset of images, and the possibility to share 3D models among different institutions, especially with ones that have fewer resources. 3D printers that have the capability to print with different densities and colours can be used to accentuate the anatomical details.
  6. Patient education: patient-centered cares makes patient education one of the top priorities for most healthcare providers. However, communicating imaging reports verbally or by showing patients their CT or MRI scans may not be effective; the patients may not fully understand 2D images representation of a 3D anatomy. On the contrary, 3D printing may improve the doctor-patient communication by showing the anatomic model directly.
  7. Storage of rare cases for educational purposes: this role is closely linked to the previous one. This allows the generation of a large dataset composed by datasets of patients affected by rare pathologies, allowing the training of surgeons in specific applications.
  8. Improve the forensic practice: in the courtroom, a 3D model could be used to easily demonstrate various anatomic abnormalities that may be difficult to jury members to understand using cross-sectional imaging.
  9. Bioprinting: the 3D printing allows also the modelling of implantable tissue. Some examples are the 3D printing of synthetic skin for transplanting to patients, who suffered burn injuries. It may also be used for testing of cosmetic, chemical, and pharmaceutical products. Another example is the replicating of heart valves using a combination of cells and biomaterials to control the valve’s stiffnessor the replicating of human ears using molds filled with a gel containing bovine cartilage cells suspended in collagen.
  10. Personalized drug 3D printing: the 3D printing of drugs consists of the printing out the powdered drug layer to make it dissolve faster than average pills. It allows also personalization of the patient’s needed quantity.
  11. Customizing synthetic organs: the 3D printing may represent an opportunity to save life reducing the waiting list of patients that need transplantation. Bioprinted organs may also be used in the future by pharmaceutical industries to replace animal models for analyzing the toxicity of new drugs.

Therefore, these examples clearly demonstrated that 3D printing is one of the most disruptive technologies that have the potential to change significantly the clinical field, improving medicine and healthcare, making care affordable, accessible, and personalized. As printers evolve, printing biomaterials get safety regulated and the general public acquires a common sense about how 3D printing works.

Source: Hindawi

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