3D printing in healthcare is becoming, if not quite mainstream, something common enough that most people have at least heard of 3D printed prosthetics, or implants, or surgical models. The technology is being used by both large corporations and small clinics, but it’s the large corporations that can really play a role in bringing it into the mainstream quickly. There are few medical corporations larger or more influential than Johnson & Johnson, and the company has embraced 3D printing in a big way, entering into collaborations with HP and other companies to develop advanced applications for 3D printing in the biomedical sphere.
Sam Onukuri, the Head of Johnson & Johnson’s 3D Printing Center of Excellence, has a personal stake in developing customized 3D printed medicine. A while ago, his mother-in-law had both of her knees replaced.
“If there was a customized 3D-printed knee available then, I believe her pain and the recuperation time could have been reduced,” he said. “Through 3D printing technology, we can print exactly what the patient needs to replace the degraded bone. The implant can be made based on a CT or MRI scan from thousands of miles away.”
Every person’s body is different, but medical implants don’t often reflect that. Instead, doctors who are replacing a knee, for example, have to choose between only a few different implant sizes to decide which one will best fit their patient. Frequently, none of those sizes fits properly, causing the patient more discomfort and prolonging healing time.
“Physicians make every effort to find the implant that fits best,” said Onukuri. “But it’s never a perfect match, and the same is true for the tools. As a result, the surgery takes longer — and so can healing and recovery — and the fit may not be perfect.”
With 3D printing, however, physicians can take scans of their patients’ individual anatomy and have an implant 3D printed that precisely matches that anatomy, allowing for faster surgery, faster healing and reduced pain. The complex surgical tools needed for the surgery can be customized and 3D printed, too.
Onukuri discussed 3D printed medicine at the recent TCT Show in Birmingham. In his talk, entitled “The Power of 3D Printing: How This Technology is Blazing New Medical Frontiers,” he discussed Johnson & Johnson’s vision of the future of 3D printing in medicine as well as the pharmaceutical, medical device and consumer uses of the technology.
Image Credit: Sarah Goehrke