So long as 3D printing doesn't end up with this, it will be a great medical asset.3D printing is starting to sound a lot like alchemy - countless objects from cars to guitars to food are being printed, with new printouts occurring all the time. It seems like manufacturing companies are looking at everyday items, turning to a friend or colleague and pointing to it, exclaiming excitedly, “We should try to print one of those!”

The advent of 3D printing is completely revolutionizing modern medicine. Tissues, organs, prosthetics, drug delivery systems, you name it, 3D printers are churning them out, and at a much lower cost for materials than traditional manufacturing procedures. Artificial cells are already being printed for study, and I say it’s only a matter of time before we attempt printing whole human beings (not alive, I hope, otherwise we may have a modern day Frankenstein situation on our hands.)

Models produced by 3D printers are proving to be valuable diagnostic and surgical tools, as well. 3D imaging software is able to produce a physical representation of surgical sites, enabling surgeons to approach the surgery from several different perspectives. A hands-on approach using a model offers surgeons actual practice, rather than relying on computer representations of the surgical site, which can only help them to visualize.

3D printed modeling of the surgical area has already saved a woman’s sight. An MRI revealed a tumor behind her eye, and she was initially recommended a craniotomy plus lifting of the brain in order to access the tumor. However, after her cranium was recreated, it was discovered that a much less invasive surgery would do the trick – micro drilling the tumor out through her left eyelid. The procedure was a success, taking only eight hours and removing 95% of the tumor.

Since the models are relatively easy and cheap to produce, surgeons should be able to use them for, theoretically, any particularly tricky surgery. Once we are able to produce a highly detailed model of the brain, brain tumor removal may become much less complicated. 3D printed models could be manipulated in order to find the most minimally invasive point of access – drastically reducing the risk of damage to the brain.

Moving back to the modern Frankenstein image, the idea of 3D printing an entire human body seems monstrous. Though I see using that body as a model proving especially useful in particularly tight spots – in surgical procedures on infants or even fetuses. In situations like those, the surgeon is definitely going to benefit from a trial run on the body to see which entry point or surgical tactic proves to be the least invasive. Who knows, perhaps once we start printing entire bodies it will become commonplace to practice on the 3D printout to prepare for intricate surgeries.

What do you think is next on the queue for medical device manufacturers’ 3D printers? Comment below!