3D Printing Technology

3D printing is an amazing piece of technology that allows one to create an exact replica of an electronic model created on the computer. While it has become especially important in the past few years, the concept of a 3D printer started over 30 years ago.

In 1980, a patent regarding 3D printing was registered by the Japanese Dr. Kodama. In 1987, the first 3D printing model, the  stereolithography apparatus, abbreviated the SLA-1, was made. Over the course of 20 years, they continued to research and enhance 3D printing and in 2000, many big 3D companies began to rise up. In 2014, the Micro 3D Printer raised over $3 million in customer funding on Kickstarter. In 2015 Google invested $100 million into Carbon3D, one of the now biggest 3D printer manufacturers. However, in 2012, it finally became incorporated into the medical field with a TED Talk, which discussed its use in using chemical inks to print medicine. Then, finally in 2014, a 3D printer was used to create prosthetic fingers for a five-year-old girl born without fully formed fingers on her left hand.

There are many ways to use a 3D printer in orthopedic surgery. The first, as shown in the above paragraph, if a bone needs to be completely replaced a 3D printer can create a whole new bone. However, there are downfalls to this method. The first being that since each and every bone is unique to each individual, there will be deficiencies in making another bone. While one can try to replicate the exact bone electronically, there is almost one hundred percent chance that the bone will lack in some way. However, this isn’t the biggest problem. There are several functions the bones have, such as: to maintain body shape, protect organs, and provide specific nutrients to the body. This last function of the bone is important because only bone marrow, which is houses inside the bone itself, has the ability to produce red blood cells(erythrocytes), fat cells(adipose), fibrous connective tissue, strongly cells, and bone cells(osteocytes). These cells are separated into two categories, the two types of bone marrow, the red marrow and yellow marrow. The red marrow produces red blood cells, which is the actual main function of the bone. In fact, without bone or bone marrow, humans would have little to no way of making erythrocytes. Yellow marrow’s main function is to produce fat cells as well as the other non-blood cells. While important, yellow marrow ultimately is less important than red marrow. Back to the 3D printing, a 3D printer would not have the necessary materials or qualities to produce these cells or bone marrow, much less stem cells, which you can read about in my Evidence if of Learning #1. This is a big detail one cannot overlook as bone marrow is necessary to live a healthy life. Therefore, when replacing bones, one must only replace smaller bones, such as the phalanges, the fingers.

The second way to use a 3D printer in orthopedic surgery is much more discreet in its method of healing. To explain the method, I must first talk about common rehabilitation technique known as casting.  Casting is a technique used to apply a soft bandage to the injured area through the usage of warm water, and once it dries, the bandage becomes very stiff. A ‘cast’ is applied to the injured area to prevent external factors from causing harm or change to it. For example, if one injures his arm, a cast is applied so that the injured person does not move it too much or cause it harm if something accidentally hits it. While a cast sounds impeccable because it allows the bone to heal on its own, it has some downfalls. A cast is applied around the injured appendage, it is tightly fit in order to keep the bone and arm itself in place. However, sometimes binding the injured area rightly is detrimental to healing it. For example, if a person broke his arm, and the bone has shifted out of place, a cast tightly to the injured arm, even with the guidance of x-rays, it has a chance of healing, but instead it would be in an improper position. If this happens, the bones will heal wrongly, causing the body to bone to become unbalance and jagged, causing pain and damage to he area surrounding the broken bone. However, with the usage of 3D printing and x-rays, one can create a cast that properly pushes the bone back into the most optimal place. It assists human healing more than regular casting could ever do.

Preston, Anne. “6 Hot Topics from the 2015 American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons Annual Meeting.” HealthTrust – Performance Improvement For Healthcare. N.p., 09 Aug. 2016. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.

Industry, 3D. “The Free Beginner’s Guide – History”. 3D Printing Industry. N. p., 2017. Web. 3 Feb. 2017.


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