As 3D printing gains more momentum in the healthcare industry, professionals are seeking materials that fit in with the new narrative. The production of materials that can be molded in response to the patient-centric approach is integral to the shift that is taking place. Low-volume manufacturing has made the process even more seamless as it catalyzed the creation of unique prototypes that address the particular needs of different patients.
Whether it is ceramics for dental implants hydrogels for tissue engineering or biocompatible polymers for orthopedic surgeries, 3D printing materials have proven themselves as formidable contestants for better adaptability and integration.
Ceramic Materials for Dental Applications
Ceramic materials are the primary choices when it comes to 3D printing dental crowns and bridges as they are highly durable and strong. They are also bioinert, which means that they won’t react with the tissues around the areas where they are implanted. Therefore, the risks of irritation and inflammation can be reduced significantly as the healing process is speeded up.
Moreover, there is an unexplored potential for customization with these materials as they can mimic the patient’s dental anatomy down to the smallest details.
As these dental applications are subject to customization, they facilitate low-volume manufacturing. A more cost-effective option is opted for as opposed to conventional mass production. Additionally, there are more opportunities for modifications to be made without the wastage of mass products.
Dental restorations can be made more durable by using a combination of ceramic materials. Their strengths overlap to create a stronger product. Therefore, various possibilities are tested to see which one meets the specific demands of the patient and makes for the best solution. The versatility also extends to color and translucency, where an optimal choice can be obtained by using a mixture of ceramic materials.
Hydrogels for Soft Tissue Engineering
The medical industry has seen an increase in the use of hydrogels especially in the soft tissue engineering subdivision. The material can easily emulate the environment and properties of the soft tissues as it can hold large amounts of water for longer periods. By replicating the physiological characteristics of the organs, it can generate patient-specific solutions. It defeats the need to be put on a long donor list as transplantation with it is more seamless and involves lower risks.
Tissues have to fulfill the biomechanical demands of individual anatomical areas and hydrogels are great when the most suitable tissues have to be engineered. As their use varies from location to location as well as the specific medical needs of the patient, it encourages low-volume manufacturing to take place. As a consequence, the precise use of bio-inks for structuring extracellular matrix (ECM) can help achieve the intended purpose.
Bioactive hydrogels in particular induce an atmosphere that is conducive to cell proliferation, differentiation, and adhesion. These properties are integral for tissue regeneration and, therefore, can be crucial for faster wound healing. Growth factors such as fibroblast growth factor (FGF) and platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) are vital for proliferation and enable to generation of collagen which is necessary for strong tissue structuring.
Pharmaceutical drugs can be used with hydrogels as the material can swell and hold the drugs inside their structure. Most hydrogels are also highly responsive and have their drug delivery system. This means that when hydrogel receives the environmental cue, it will degrade and release the drugs with great precision. The release of the drugs can be accordingly slow and sustained, therefore, providing a tailored solution.
Resorbable Materials for Temporary Implants
Resorbable materials are often used for 3D printing because of their biodegradable trait. Several medical procedures require implants to be removed after some time and, therefore, in those circumstances, temporary implants can be used. If these implants are made from resorbable material, they will perform their intended function and then dissolve. This eliminates any concerns regarding inflammation or infections that usually develop with permanent implants.
Some common resorbable materials that are used for this purpose are polyglycolic acid (PGA), polylactic acid (PLA), polyester amide (PEBA), and polycaprolactone (PCL). Based on whether your patient requires a quick or slow degradation, these materials offer a wide range of functions. As a result, its low-volume manufacturing capabilities can assist with intraoperative prototyping during surgeries as well. Where, if needed, surgeons can 3D print implants to facilitate the operations.
These materials have also found their way into pediatrics. The common concern with implants for children is that they might outgrow them and would need replacements after some time. However, resorbable materials can adapt to the developing anatomy and, thus, remove the need for further surgeries. Further research is being conducted to explore how the process can be simplified even more so that the full potential of the materials can be exploited.
Biocompatible Polymers for Orthopedic Surgeries
Over the years, medical professionals have struggled to manufacture bone implants that can accurately imitate mechanical properties. However, with biocompatible polymers, bone density and weight can be replicated. With this biomechanical mimicry, the probability of complications is drastically reduced.
Usually, conventional materials such as alloys may cause the immune system to flare up with allergic reactions. In contrast, these polymers don’t raise such concerns. Antibacterial agents can also be associated with the polymers, therefore, making the postoperative recovery more comfortable and freer from any infections. The lightweight composition of the polymers ensures that the patient is further facilitated in their healing journey.
Patients have often reported issues with metal implants for their joints. This is why biocompatible polymers appear as competent competitors owing to their plethora of benefits. Without the usual wear resistance due to insurmountable friction, these polymers are less susceptible to damage in the long run. Furthermore, their longevity can also be attributed to a lower risk of corrosion which would have been imminent with the use of metal implants.
To supplement the use of biocompatible polymers, bioactive coatings can also be utilized. These coatings essentially consist of growth factors or other biologically active materials that help the implants fuse into their surroundings. Bone ingrowth and cellular adhesion are just a few of its numerous advantages that could benefit a patient as they go through the stressful surgical process.
Now is the time to bring forth the demands of patients that have been overlooked for years. 3D printing and its corresponding materials have shown incredible potential in the way they can alter the healthcare landscape for the better. As professionals look further into the benefits of such materials, they are swayed toward providing specialized care unlike anything witnessed before.
These materials have challenged the use of traditional ones by bridging the gaps that limited patients’ treatments. Therefore, providing not only more effective medical solutions but also improved healing journeys.