Medical 3-D printing is an emerging area of technology that explores how 3-D printing can be used to replace or support an existing biological structure.
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Medical practitioners have now begun using 3-D printers to produce medical devices. Examples of medical 3-D printing successes include the creation of plastic tracheal splints and limb prosthetics as well as titanium replacements for jaws and hips.
3-D printing represents a shift in the medical manufacturing industry because the relatively low cost and small size of printers promises to make the technology widely accessible, allowing doctors and researchers to create personalized devices for patients. A physician whose patient experiences pain or has developed an infection from a non-customized prosthetic can now use imaging technology and a 3-D printer to customize a new prosthetic that conforms to the specific shape and movements of the patient's body.
A related area of 3-D printing called bioprinting, involves printing human tissue and organs by layering living cells instead of plastic or titanium. While bioprinting remains in the experimental phase, the ability to print human tissue could have a huge impact on such things as pharmaceutical research, transplants, surgical operations and reconstructive surgery.