The 3D printed future of medicine is here today

Credit: Colin Druce-McFadden/DVICE

The "Inside 3D printing" expo, a two-day event held in New York showcased everything from the latest 3D printers and scanners to the ever-broadening spectrum of printing filaments. But hidden away in a conference room were a small array of 3D printed medical apparatuses that are already changing the face of surgery, without all the fanfare of a skull replacement.

Atop a simple table sit a handful of printed medical models, joints, surgical guides and a few porous, metal semi-spheres. These little marvels, strangely enough, are some of medical 3D printing's greatest success stories to date.

The models, while not very flashy, allow surgeons to prepare for complex surgeries better than they have before. The guides offer precise surgical aid for individual patients, and those little porous half spheres are a cheaper, better hip joint for anyone who needs one.

They're hip cups — the part of a hip replacement that forms the joint — and 3D printed versions of them have already been implemented in hundreds of hip surgeries all across Europe. Until companies like Lima and Adler began 3D printing them, hip cups had to be screwed in to stay put. Those screws, given enough time, are prone to failure. And while screws are still used in these 3D printed hip cups, it's their secondary anchoring mechanic that really stops the show.

3D printing allows for the cheap, easy creation of complex structures, like a sphere with a solid interior and a porous exterior. The solid interior helps the new hip joint sit and function properly, the necessity of any replacement joint.

The porous exterior does something even more. It encourages your existing pelvic bone to grow into and through its Swiss cheese-like holes. And when that happens, something is achieved that is practically unheard of in the world of prosthetics: the replacement hip gets stronger — as if it were a real, healing part of your body. Check out the whole array of under-sung 3D printed medical tools in the gallery below.

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