When the world was first introduced to 3D printing, manufacturers saw an opportunity to create products in a process that is more streamlined and efficient. Those in the pediatric medical community saw something entirely different. Over the past several decades, 3D printers have evolved into machines that can create a variety of medical devices that are perfect for use in the youngest patients. Here are 5 ways 3D printers have changed pediatric medicine and the lives of countless families.
Printing Tiny Devices
One challenge in treating children with medical issues is that many medical devices are created for an average sized adult and not for a smaller person. Kids with serious injuries or diseases often need implants, stents and other treatments that are hard to make in sizes that fit.
One example of this is a current treatment for children who are born with a condition that does not allow their airways to open completely and causes them to be unable to breathe. Sometimes children outgrow mild cases, but when the condition is severe it can be fatal. Pediatric doctors developed a way to print tiny plastic tubes that are made to be an exact fit for a child's tiny throat and hold the airway open so the child can breathe.
Devices That Grow with the Child
Children who are in need of a prosthetic limb or other body part often face issues related to constantly outgrowing their medical devices. Creating a prosthetic piece can take a long time and be very expensive. Children outgrow these devices just like they outgrow their clothing. This means that families are sometimes faced with buying a new prosthetic immediately after the old one has been ordered, created and fitted.
Prosthetic devices created through 3D printing can be made of materials that are designed to stretch, so they can grow with the child for several years. When a new piece is needed, it can be printed quickly and for less money than before. That way a child can always have a prosthetic that fits.
Better Ways to Treat Scoliosis
Scoliosis is a condition faced by many adolescents. This spinal issue is treated by having the child wear an uncomfortable brace that constricts movement. In the past, these braces have been heavy, hot and sometimes painful.
New scoliosis braces are created with a 3D printer and are made of a lighter material that fits more easily under clothing and is more comfortable for the patient to wear.
Granting Better Mobility
Children who have trouble walking may not have to face a life spent in a wheelchair. New advances in 3D printing have allowed doctors to actually create an exoskeleton that is attached to the outside of the patient's body and provides the strength and structure needed for many patients to be able to walk.
Hope for Transplants
The next big thing on the horizon for 3D printing is the development of printers that can actually create prosthetic human organs. This means that children with kidney, heart and lung diseases may not have to spend years waiting for a cadaver donor for a transplant. A new organ can be created to replace the damaged one, and the chances of the body rejecting the new organ are much lower because it is made specifically for that patient.
Young patients sometimes die waiting for a transplant from an organ donor. When organs can actually be created, those deaths will be prevented. Forbes explains that while organs are not currently being printed for transplantation, the treatment is coming soon. In the meantime, doctors are printing 3D models of patients that they can use to plan and practice complicated surgeries.
The development of 3D printers has completely revolutionized medicine, especially when it comes to pediatric care. The smallest patients no longer have to be an afterthought but can enjoy medical devices created just for them.
For more information, you can contact a local prototyping company, like EIGERlab.