How 3D printing is revolutionizing the medical field

3D printing is poised to revolutionize the way medical professionals diagnose and treat patients.


In 1999, a patient at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina received the first-ever 3D-printed organ transplant: a bio-printed bladder.

It was a scientific breakthrough — and a promising sign of the potential additive manufacturing held on changing the medical field.

Decades later, 3D printing applications have been used on a variety of medical advancements, such as developing prosthetics and medical devices, curating specialized medications and transforming complex medical procedures.

Orthotics and Prosthetics

One of the significant uses of additive manufacturing in the medical field is the creation of prosthetics and implants.

It’s no secret that prosthetic limbs can come with a moderate price tag. According to a statement from the American Orthotics and Prosthetics Association, the average upper limb prosthetic can range anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 in cost.

Insurance providers will typically cover a portion of the cost, but patients may still end up having to cover the difference out-of-pocket.

Undergraduate researchers at Rutgers University estimated in 2020 that 3D printing can reduce the cost of prosthetics and orthotics by up to 88%. To date, companies around the world are already 3D printing prosthetic limbs at a fraction of traditional costs — with some costing as little as $50.

Traditional external prostheses are also often mass produced, and they may not fit every patient’s unique anatomy perfectly. With 3D-printing, however, patients can receive prosthetics and implants that are tailored to their specific needs, ultimately helping patients reach more comfort and a higher quality of life.

Surgical planning

3D printing can be instrumental for surgical planning by allowing doctors to create physical models of bones, organs and other body parts that can then be used to plan and practice surgeries before they’re performed on actual patients.

A 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons found that using 3D-printed models for detailed surgical planning not only reduced overall surgery times, but increased surgical precision, decreased patient bleeding and reduced the need for anesthesia.

3D-printing has granted doctors the ability to create patient-specific surgical guides that can be used during procedures to ensure accurate placement of implants or medical devices, reducing complication risks and improving patient outcomes.

Replacement tissues and organs

Since 1999, when the patient at Wake Forest Medical Center received the first-ever 3D-printed bladder, scientists have continuously sought ways to use 3D printing — or 3D bioprinting, as it’s referred to in the medical field — to create other viable tissues and organs for patients.

According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Association, there are nearly 106,000 men, women and children on the national organ transplant waiting list, with kidneys being the most-requested organ.

Scientists are hopeful that 3D-bioprinted organs could meet the ever-increasing demand for organ transplants. Their research is still in the early stages, but the results so far have been propitious.

In 2017, San Diego-based laboratory Organovo announced it was successfully able to 3D bioprint the microscopic veins of a kidney.

As part of a study published by Frontiers in Physiology, scientists were able to develop “a fully cellular human in vitro model of the proximal tubule interstitial interface comprising renal fibroblasts, endothelial cells, and primary human renal proximal tubule epithelial cells” using Organovo’s 3D-bioprinting platform.

Jennifer Lewis, a professor at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, recently told CNN that it could be another decade until complete, fully functioning organs are successfully printed — but the progress made so far has been promising.


3D printing is already improving the medical industry and it will continue to change the future of medicine. With the ability to develop and produce customized prosthetics and implants, create 3D surgical models and prototypes and replicate crucial organs and tissues, 3D printing is poised to revolutionize the way medical professionals diagnose and treat patients.