Dramatic news headlines imply that the use of additive manufacturing/3D printing in medicine is a brand new way to save and improve lives. The truth is, it’s not so new. Twenty years ago anatomical models were beginning to be used for planning complicated surgeries. In 2000, hearing aid cases were being 3D-printed and within a few years became industry standard. Medical applications have been a leader in taking 3D printing technology far beyond a product development tool. The combination of using medical imaging data to create patient-matched devices and the ability to manufacture structures difficult to produce with traditional technologies is compelling to an industry always looking for ways to innovate.
Surgical uses of 3D printing-centric therapies have a long history beginning with anatomical modeling for bony reconstructive surgery planning. By practicing on a tactile model before surgery surgeons were more prepared and patients received better care. Patient matched implants were a natural extension of this work, leading to truly personalized implants that fit one unique individual. Virtual planning of surgery and guidance using 3D printed, personalized instruments have been applied to many areas of surgery including total joint replacement and craniomaxillofacial reconstruction with great success[9,11]. Further study of the use of models for planning heart and solid organ surgery has lead to increased use in these areas. Finally, hospital-based 3D printing is now of great interest and many institutions are pursuing adding this specialty within individual radiology departments[12,13].
Despite these successful areas of application, widespread use has been fairly slow. Working toward increasing the use of 3D printing in medicine, industry professionals, clinicians, technology developers, and researchers are working together to first identify the challenges and then develop tools and resources to address these challenges.