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4 Unknown Benefits of 3-D Printing in Medicine

Health Tech, 3-D printing, biomedical printing

Learn about them—and more— at Health Tech ’15!

You’ve read the headlines about 3-D printing’s life-changing use in healthcare, such as creating implants to reconstruct an accident victim’s skull or face. But did you know that 3-D printing offers additional benefits for patients? We talked to the four medical 3-D experts who are about to enthrall audiences at Westchester County Association’s Health Tech ’15 conference: Severine Zygmont, president of Oxford Performance Materials (OPM), makers of the only FDA-approved 3-D printed polymeric orthopedic implants; Anjali Chelliah, MD, assistant a pediatric oncologist and professor professor of pediatrics, division of pediatric oncology,at Columbia University Medical Center; David Putrino, PhD, PT, director of telemedicine and rehabilitation, Burke Medical Research Institute; and Oren Tepper, MD, director of craniofacial surgery at Montefiore Medical Center.

Here’s what we learned about the benefits of biomedical printing:

1. Shorter hospital stays

Because 3-D printing can produce customized products, the patient spends less time in the operating room, has a shorter stay in the hospital, and a better long-term outcome, says Zygmont, whose company produces 3-D printed implants that perfectly match a patient’s anatomy.

 2. Better properties than metal implants

The chemistry of the resins used in Oxford Performance Materials 3-D medical printing include a special thermo-plastic material called polyetherketoneketone (PEKK, for short), which encourages the growth of cells and bone, allowing for better integration with a patient’s skeleton. What’s more, in contrast to other materials used for implants, such as titanium—which appears as a dark, non-transparent mass on a scan—PEKK is “imaging-friendly.” Doctors can see through it and around it on a post-op scan.

3. Better surgical outcomes

3-D printed anatomical models can also simulate surgeries ahead of time, eliminating surprises, minimizing complications, and improving the precision of surgery, Tepper said in a quote published in Plastic Surgery News. Tepper used the virtual planning technology to create 3-D models of a three-week-old girl’s under-developed jaw, and used them as a guide to lengthen her jaw, open her airway, and improve her breathing. In another case, a team led by Dr. Chelliah saved the life of a one-week old baby with the aid of a 3-D printed model of the child’s heart. Doctors were able to hold a physical-scale model of the heart, enabling them to better plan the successful surgery.

4. Reduced healthcare costs; improved access to care

Though the model used by Dr. Chelliah’s team cost a few thousand dollars, it allowed surgeons to remedy many issues in one surgery, ultimately saving thousands more dollars in future surgeries and hospital stays, she said in an interview with Cardiovascular Business. Zygmont says OPM’s technologies result in lower manufacturing costs, which have the potential to improve healthcare on a global scale. Already, groups such as Not Impossible Labs, of which Burke’s Putrino is a team member, are designing prosthetic arms for about $100 for people injured in the war in Sudan.

Find out what the future holds in bio-medical printing from these pioneers, at “3-D Printing: The Next Frontier in Health Tech,” at Health Tech ’15, May 18-19, Tarrytown, New York.

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