3D Printing is exactly what it sounds like: printing things in 3D, like a functional toy gun, or a real gun that actually shoots bullets. The medical community worldwide has turned to 3D printers to create replacements for human bones, organs, and more.

What Is Medical 3D Printing Being Used For?

Don’t think of it as a printer printing a human hand. That’s sci-fi. Think of it as printing a chunk of titanium that is customized to replace your jaw bone after a bad accident.

Hip issues are a common medical ailment among the elderly. We can now print an intricately textured  piece of titanium that attaches to the pelvis in such a manner that our pelvic bones grow into it, fastening it to our body. Human hands could not create such a thing. Human minds + 3D printing can.

The medical community is availing of 3D printing to make items customized exactly to you. Take hearing aids: they used to be made in a few different sizes, and you’d pick the one closest to the best fit for you. Now, it’s possible to create a hearing aid that is 100% made to fit in your ear, and your ear only.

It is also being used to make models that will assist a surgeon in preparing for various surgeries, especially difficult or innovative ones. Practice makes perfect, so CT Scans are being used to make models of a patient’s trouble area — a lung, a knee joint, whatever. A surgeon can use this model to poke around at before doing the real deal operation on a real person.

A company in Japan, named Fasotec, has created a wet material meant to simulate human tissue, so these models feel like the real thing. This is called “bio-textuted modeling.”

Bio-textured modeling allows you to print a scan of, say, a patient’s liver that is in 3D, the texture of a liver, and complete with the location of any blood vessels or tumours in that patient’s liver. This will improve outcomes of surgeries.

3D printing also improves the fitting of custom prosthetics for people who have lost digits, limbs, large chunks of bone, etc. Scans of your actual left foot can help print a perfect-match right foot for you now, which results in a more comfortable, customized prosthetic.

It goes beyond limbs though: recently, and quite famously, Eric Moger was printed a new flesh-like face that allows him enough mobility to comfortably eat and chew. He’d lost his face to cancer.

So that’s where we’re at now with medical 3D printing. We’re using inorganic materials to enhance surgery prep, customize prosthetic limbs, etc.

The future of medical 3D printing is in “Bio Printing.” This means 3D printing organic human tissue. Spheres of “bio ink,” that contain living human cells, can print live tissue; human tissue that can grow into organs, for organ transplants. Numnerous countries have already printed various human tissues, from liver to skin to thyroid.

More than a third of patent applications related to 3D printing are in medicine.  3D printing has become the biggest modern innovator of the medical industry worldwide, and it’s happening right here in Newfoundland & Labrador, via Memorial University’s MUN Med 3D initiative.

Inside The MUN Med 3D Lab

The Mun Med 3D initiative was started to take this rapidly expanding technology, and implement it into the medical curriculum at MUN. This project was headed by Michael Bartellas and Steve Ryan to provide students with enhanced learning opportunities in the study of anatomy, medical simulation, and as a tool for medical professionals looking to kick-start a special project.

Dr. Adam Dubrowski is currently the principal investigator on a project designed to expand MUN MED 3D across Newfoundland and Labrador and the Atlantic region. He began his research career by studying factors that influence the acquisition of clinical skills, particularly the methods used for optimizing simulation in medical education and training.

It was recently announced that Dr. Dubrowski, professor of emergency medicine, received 1.42 million dollars from the Government of Canada, to advance medical education and patient care across Newfoundland and Labrador by expanding the existing biomedical 3D printing laboratory at the Faculty of Medicine.

The goal is to use this money to establish a network of research and development sites in rural communities across the province, so these rural sites can use 3D printing technology. He is developing simulation-based programs for medical residents and practitioners in rural and remote Newfoundland and Labrador, and for medics in offshore and marine industries.

Dr. Dubrowski says his team’s simulation tools will change how future health professionals learn and work. Building anatomically correct, 3D models that specifically replicate a real patient will provide hands-on rehearsals for clinicians who lack hands-on learning opportunities with real patients.

Med 3D Network’s rural sites are, in order of implementation, Carbonear, St. Anthony, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Twillingate, and Port-aux-Basques. There is an additional network site in St. John, NB.