While there is excitement about the possibility of bio printing human tissue and even whole organs such as kidneys, more established 'additive' manufacturing is finding practical application among medics today.
Stories of using a 3D printer to enrich the lives of disabled people are appearing. In one case, a little girl called Emma had an exoskeleton printed to her exact requirements. In another story, a start up founded by industrial designer Scott Summit is showing how 3D printing can be used to manufacture unique prosthetic leg fairings.
Now, surgeons in the UK are using an Objet Eden printer to help them plan the reconstruction of the knee of a solider wounded in Iraq.
The complex models of the shattered knee are rendered using the SolidWorks software. They are transferred to the Objet configured to print using a bio-compatible material called MED 610. This allows for prolonged contact with human skin, up to 30 days, i.e. during the entire surgical intervention and initial recovery - prior to insertion of the final personalized titanium plates.
The 3D model gives pre-operative visual and tactile information, but also the intra-operative guidance to assist the planning and undertaking of the surgery.
The story coming out of Imperial Collage has resonances with the printing of a detailed human foot in which specialized musculoskeletal modelling software from Anybody Technology was employed. AnyBody software also runs as a plug-in for SolidWorks.