The NHS Trusts Buying 3D Printers
The next couple of years are set to see dramatic improvements in 3D printing. A technology that has sat on the back burner for a while is now beginning to be used in more diverse situations. Not only are manufacturers finding ways to incorporate 3D printing into their factory operations, organisations such as the NHS are make big steps forward too.
Converting Scans into 3D Models
One of the key areas where 3D printing is being used in the NHS is the conversion of CT scans. Producing a 3D model of an area where surgery is going to be carried out can provide medical staff with a good reference and a better idea about the organ they are operating on.
Alder Hey spinal team recently used such a 3D model when performing an operation on an eight-year-old patient. The model was produced from a CT scan and was printed in plastic that could easily be sterilised. The surgeons were then able to refer to it throughout the operating procedure improving the potential of a successful outcome.
It’s actually a process that NHS Trusts have used for a good while. Incorporating 3D printing means that it is now much easier to do this kind of modelling to order and could be rolled out across all NHS organisations in the UK if success continues. Another NHS hospital to use 3D printing in recent times is Guys and St Thomas. Their patient had undergone heart surgery but had severe problems with a damaged kidney. A 3D model was made of the area to be operated on which provided a way of planning the procedure with a higher chance of a better outcome.
The amazing thing about these 3D models for medical purposes is the high degree of detail that can be included and which can help guide medical procedures. Surgeons can even rehearse a particularly complex procedure using the models and then take them into the theatre for reference. Most surgical specialists agree that the major benefit of 3D printing in this instance is better patient safety. If surgeons are not going in blind and have a better idea what to expect then the chances of an improved prognosis increases. This is much easier to achieve from a 3D model than it is from a normal CT scan.
It’s not just in operations where 3D printing is being used. More focus is being placed on printing out replacement human parts, something that is also making a big difference. Newcastle NHS Trust have used printing to create a titanium pelvis for a hip replacement operation.
3D printing also has the potential to be used in areas like dentistry and the tailoring of orthodontic devices. There is a long way to go of course. Could we see doctors creating new organs via 3D printing? The answer is that many researchers and medical professionals are looking at the possibilities already. In America they’re investigating how to make synthetic skin, heart valves and even parts for the ear. In China and the US, researchers are printing models of cancer tumours to better understand how they develop and can be managed by tailoring treatment to a particular patient.
There’s no doubt that the future of 3D printing looks likely to change procedures in the NHS. It already is.