How 3D Printing Is Taking The Pain Out Of Prosthetics [Future of Health]

How 3D Printing Is Taking The Pain Out Of Prosthetics [Future of Health]

PSFK Labs looks the potential for 3D Printed Procedures to make custom prosthetics and medical implants cheaper and more effective.

  • 14 march 2014

The challenge of losing or being born without a limb or requiring an implant are already great, but solutions do exist – for those who can afford them. In addition to being costly, these artificial replacements are often uncomfortable, offer limited range of motion and require ongoing physical therapy to learn proper use. There is, however, hope for those who have struggled through this process. Thanks to the recent developments in 3D printing technology, specially made prosthetics and medical implants are easier to create and cost less to make. These new methods to for rapidly producing these custom medical devices, and one day even entire organs, is a trend in PSFK Labs’ latest Future of Health report called Printed Procedures.

According to the Hospital For Special Surgery, the typical price of a prosthetic leg can run anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000, depending on the size and functionality of the piece. There’s no guarantee that the leg will last or always be a perfect, comfortable fit as the patient attempts to get used to his or her new appendage. The cost of drug therapy for organ transplant patients is even riskier — the drugs needed to aid the procedure often have potent side effects, such as nausea, vomiting and infections, and there’s no way to ensure that the organ will not be rejected.


While 3D printers are still relatively new in the medical technology space, they are proving incredibly useful for not only designing bespoke prosthetics or organs, but also making them more affordable. In fact, for the use of a standard printer, the structures created will cover the cost of the machine many times over. Said printer can provide a return on investment of 20% to 40% and can save up to $2,000 in avoided purchase costs, a recent study from the Michigan Technical University Department of Materials Science & Engineering reported.

3D printers can easily build creations out of plastic, but thanks to advancements in medical technology, special printers can also make structures out of cells. This means that not only can doctors design custom parts for their patients, but they can do so with specific cells, lowering the risk of transplant rejection without raising the cost. This also means that prosthetics can be created out of organic material rather than plastic or metal that can wear and rust with time, saving time and money on upkeep and replacement. While there’s no way to print a fully function leg made of flesh and bone yet, the technology can create smaller but better solutions for those in need of them.

Here are a few questions to consider alongside the advances being made with 3D printed solutions for the healthcare industry:

  • What materials can be used to print new implants and prostheses that are more functional and natural in appearance?
  • What technologies are needed to ensure that custom printed replacements offer the widest range of motion and best fit?
  • How can a patient’s stem cells be used in these procedures to ensure better outcomes and shorter recovery times?
  • How can open source communities and design techniques be used to create a new range of prosthetic parts for patients?
  • How do 3D printing technologies be used to help distribute resources and supplies to remote areas of the world?

With the help of our partner Boehringer Ingelheim, PSFK Labs has released the latest Future of Health Report, which highlights the four major themes and 13 emerging trends shaping the evolving global landscape of healthcare. To see more insights and thoughts on the Future of Health visit the PSFK page.

Contributed by Sara Roncero-Menendez

Photos: Robohand, BioPen


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