Imagine a world where our medicine, food and health conditions are made from or treated by a 3D printer. If you’ve already been feeling bogged down by a constant rush of new tech, then brace yourself. Several companies have recently made way with developments through 3D printing that they hope will shape the healthcare industry as we know it today. With faster production times and the potential for mass production, 3D printing aims to provide solutions to some of our world’s most challenging health problems.

"It's a big problem that people who get consistency-adapted food get malnourished because they eat too little," said Evelina Höglund, the researcher coordinating the project.

Around eight percent of the adults in Sweden have difficulties chewing or swallowing. So how does the country aim to solve the problem? With 3D printed meals. Halmstad municipality is planning to lead the effort by using 3D printers to take purified broccoli and chicken and re-shape it into florets and drumsticks. While the idea may not seem appetizing, especially considering that the texture is said to be consistent with that of panna cotta, 3D printing may serve as the start of a wave to print meals for populations that struggle to consume traditionally cooked food. The first trial of the meals can be expected to land by the end of the year.

In Liverpool, 3D printing is tackling a new challenge – packaged hydrocortisone tablets that are significantly bigger than the recommended dosage for children. As a result, parents or the children themselves often have to cut the tablets into the right size which can lead to a serious problem.

“If they’re getting an underdose because the quarter that they’ve chopped has got half of what you expect in it, then they start to fall asleep at school in the afternoons. It really affects you,” explains Matthew Peak, Director of Research at Alder Hay.

In July of 2018, Peak’s team ran their first research trial with a group of children where they administered the 3D printed tablets. The feedback has been positive, with children stating how easy it was to take the pill. While the trial pill is only a placebo, in the coming years, Peak’s team hopes to administer 3D printed pills with active medication – starting with hydrocortisone.

At SXSW this week, Dr. Tim Brown, a consultant transplant surgeon, will speak about how 3D printing helped him to perform a life-changing transplant surgery. The printer was used to build a patient specific model to prepare for a complex operation.

“As the cyst was buried deep within the renal cortex and therefore invisible on the back bench, a replica 3D model was used for preoperative planning and intra-operative localization of the lesion,” said Dr. Brown. “It’s difficult to underestimate how valuable this strategy was in terms of preoperative planning and achieving successful clearance of the lesion.”

With 3D printing helping Dr. Brown perform his operation, he and a number of axial3D team members plan to take the stage in a panel discussion to explore the future of 3D printing in medicine.

Why This Matters – 

93 percent of companies using 3D printing in 2018 were able to gain competitive advantages such as faster product development and reduced time-to-market.  With that said, 3D printing is ushering in a new era of technology shaping how consumers receive care and how health professionals can provide health services.

With the growing number of uses for 3D printing, more and more companies are beginning to find ways to incorporate the tech into their businesses. In healthcare, with competition remaining just as high as some drug prices, this may provide a new edge to providing alternatives that are effective, easy to produce and competitively priced. Considering that the global healthcare market for 3D printing is expected to grow to $5.5 billion by 2024, it wouldn’t be surprising if in the coming years, a majority of our health needs have some sort of 3D printed element.

About the Author:

Khye Tucker is an Innovation Strategist in Columbus, OH. With a passion for writing and a background in communications, Khye strives to bring brand stories to life through a fresh perspective, innovative thinking and creative storytelling.