3D Prints in Medicine

From surgical implants and prosthetics, 3D printing technology is transforming the field of medicine, allowing doctors to create customized, patient-specific implants. Researchers are even using specialized 3D printers to grow tissue and human organs. New materials are being developed that act as "bioseeds" to help the body rebuild tissue around 3D printed scaffolds1,2. 3D-printed medical devices range from highly specialized prosthetics to DIY robotics parts that you can print at home.

Left: a 3D-printed model of a skull and custom implant. Credit: Walter Reed 3DMAC.

Patient and Practitioner Education

One goal of the NIH 3D Print Exchange is to provide an outlet for creating and sharing medical models to facilitate visualization and learning. We envision that users across the globe will be able to find interesting case studies, to facilitate new insights and to educate medical students and practicing physicians. We also believe that physicians may use models to help illustrate medical concepts to their patients, to explain disease processes or treatment procedures.

For over half a decade, researchers at NIH have been using 3D printed models to plan surgeries (see video, right). At the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center 3D Medical Applicatons Center, Captain Gerald Grant and his team are creating custom implants and prosthetics for wounded veterans, while clinicians at Tulane University School of Medicine report success using 3D prints to inform patients undergoing surgery for renal malignancies3.

Creating Medical Models on the NIH 3D Print Exchange

The NIH 3D Print Exchange is a resource for sharing 3D models related to bioscience and medicine. Our custom pipelines allow for the creation of ready-to-print models from DICOM-formatted files through our Create page. DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) is a standard for medical imaging data. At present, our tools can accept computed tomography (CT) data, processed with predefined thresholds for tissue density. This allows for the output of a "bone" or "skin" model. Internal organs vary in density, so we are working to refine the submission form to allow for threshold customization, making it possible for users to create more specific models of internal structures.

Important note: Surgical implants and prosthetic devices require custom 3D modeling, and are often made of highly-specialized materials. The 3D models in our database are not intended for medical use in any way. The NIH 3D Print Exchange is not responsible for misuse of models hosted on our site, and users are required to adhere to our Terms and Conditions.

Read more about how 3D printing technology is being used in medicine, from a few stories in the news: