Custom Prosthetics Are As Easy As Pressing ‘Print’ [Future Of Health]

Custom Prosthetics Are As Easy As Pressing ‘Print’ [Future Of Health]

Doctors are taking advantage of 3D printing technology to build custom replacements for their patients.

  • 14 march 2014

What if you could print a replacement limb with the click of a button, one that would be perfectly suited and designed specifically for you? While the process isn’t instantaneous yet, doctors, engineers, and medical researchers have been working on new way to use 3D printers to create new, custom fit prostheses. Not only will these devices fit better and will be overall more durable, but are also cheaper to make and repair due to the relatively inexpensive nature of 3D printing.

This process of designing and printing prosthetics of both organic and inorganic materials is part of the Future of Health trend called Printed Procedures, which looks at how 3D printers are evolving to help doctors design creative medical solutions and patients heal faster. Continue reading below to understand how these devices are already being used inside the operating room.

Bionic Ear

Replacing an entire body part can be difficult, especially one as small and intricate as the human ear. Researchers at Princeton University have discovered a way to not ply replicate a functional ear, but to create one that hears better. The prothesis is created with 3D-printed cells and nanoparticles in the shape and comparable texture of a cartilage-created ear. For the listening apparatus, a small coil antenna with cartilage is placed in the prosthetic ear and is then connected to the patient’s nerve endings. In that way, the patient has stronger hearing than before without an easily noticeable hard plastic exterior. This also makes the ear more durable to wear and tear, as it is more flexible and won’t chip or crack, and more comfortable for the patient. In fact, the prosthesis is also exactly of the style and feel of a real ear, meaning the time necessary for the patient to adjust would be minimized. While there is no way to reconstruct larger body parts using this technique yet, this printing method will help millions.


Prosthetic hands often have limited mobility, or those that do are beyond the budget of most families. Handie is a prosthesis with extended mobility created almost entirely of 3D printed parts, meaning each one can be customized in size and design for each individual patient. The hand is also easily and cheaply repairable, maintenance of the device is easily sustainable. The hand includes technology so users can sync it with their mobile phone. The companion app can utilized from any smartphone, allowing for increased connectivity and tracking. The device may also inspired other researchers and engineers to design their own 3D printed robotic prosthetics. The current price of the Handie is just under $400 per hand, a steal compared to the $11,000 price tag of a similar model.

spinal disk regeneration

The spine is one of the most intricate parts of the body, as the highway for the nervous system to connect to the brain. Spinal damage can have a number of effects on a person, including partial or full paralyzation. As a person ages, their spinal discs begin to degenerate, and for about 30 million Americans, this causes an incredible amount of pain from Degenerative Disc Disease. Researchers at Cornell University have discovered a method of printing replacement discs from stem cells to heal their patients. Before the surgery, the printer compiled  strings of stem cells into the specific proportions of a patient’s spinal disc. During the procedure, the disc is then placed in the appropriate location in the spinal column. The stem cells then begin to enact a pre-designed ‘biological programming’ that replicates new spinal disc tissue for the following two weeks. This type of surgery is highly specialized for each patient and could be used in the future to treat spinal disc injuries or malformations.

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: PrincetonJames Dyson Awards, and Cornell


Volvo's Self-Driving Trucks Will Soon Be Put To Work In An Underground Mine

Automotive Yesterday

Toyota Is Using Sewage To Power Its New Electric Car

A new hydrogen-fueled vehicle is driven by what we flush away

Culture Yesterday

Catch A Concert On This Small Floating Island

A man-made archipelago in Italy is hosting music and art performances


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Design & Architecture Yesterday

DIY Kit Lets You Build Your Own Wooden Bike, Boat Or Caravan

Woodenwidget says its detailed guides are suitable for beginners and experienced woodworkers alike

Design Yesterday

Crash-Friendly Drone Made From LEGOs Is Completely Rebuildable

The clever device offers games, education and the uniquely rewarding experience of destroying your high-flying airship

Fitness / Sport Yesterday

Free Sneakers Given Out To Motivated Marathon Runners

Strava will give the shoes to athletes who run the second half of their race faster than the first

Culture Yesterday

Someone Invented A Robot Just To Serve Trays Of Beef Jerky

Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz, in partnership with Chef's Cut Real Jerky, creates an automated snack delivery system


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed september 28, 2016

Energy Expert: How American Consumers Are Taking Control Of Their Power Use

Jennifer Tuohy, green tech expert at The Home Depot, discusses green home technologies and developments for renewable technologies in US homes

PSFK Labs Yesterday

The 10 Steps To Discover, Hire, Develop Your Next Leader

PSFK's Future of Work report outlines key steps in the employee development path to empower next-gen leaders

Millennials Yesterday

Why A Social Networking Site Decided To Rebrand

Meetup, a platform that connects like-minded individuals, has taken steps to stay relevant amongst millennials

Work Yesterday

Editorial Roundtable: The People-First Workplace Should Borrow From Tradition

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary, AltSchool and thinkPARALLAX underline the old-fashioned ideas that deserve a place in the Future of Work

Op-Ed Yesterday

Digital Design Expert: Mobile First Is Dead, Think Mobile Native

Brian Cooper, chief creative officer of OLIVER Group UK, explains how some brands are still playing catch-up to new technology

Fashion Yesterday

Handbags Crafted From An Old NFL Stadium

People for Urban Progress is an up-cycling program that tackles the waste problem of big demolitions

Work Yesterday

Tech Job Site Created Just For Those Who Are Older Than 30

A new occupational job board presents a creative solution to age discrimination in the tech world


Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders

Europe Yesterday

Architect Turns A Giant Smile Into A Public Exhibition

The structure offers visitors a new perspective of London and creates an immersive environment that integrates structure, surface, space and light

Children Yesterday

Norwegian Kids Are Using Their Phones To Log Unsafe Street Conditions

Travel Agent is an app that gamifies the reporting of hazardous conditions to improve the safety of children's commute to school

Travel Yesterday

Google Wants To Help You Plan Your Next Trip

A new app curates vacation itineraries and organizes reservation emails to take the work out of planning a getaway

No search results found.