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Med Tech Roundup: 3D Printing Saves Its First Life, but Not Its Last

Doctors in Ohio have, for the first time, used a 3D printer to create an airway splint for a critical patient. AP reports:

Because of a birth defect, the little Ohio boy’s airway kept collapsing, causing his breathing to stop and often his heart, too. Doctors in Michigan had been researching artificial airway splints but had not implanted one in a patient yet.

In a single day, they “printed out” 100 tiny tubes, using computer-guided lasers to stack and fuse thin layers of plastic instead of paper and ink to form various shapes and sizes. The next day, with special permission from the Food and Drug Administration, they implanted one of these tubes in Kaiba, the first time this has been done.

3D printing is a highly disruptive technology, and in the medical field in particular it has the potential to drastically change how the industry operates. It will not only save lives, but make medical service delivery more efficient and allow consumers to manage more of their own care. We’re seeing more and more applications of 3D printing every day. Mashable highlights a group of Princeton scientists who have 3D printed a bionic ear that can hear better than the human ear:

We’ve heard of 3D printers someday building human organs before, but what’s noteworthy about this project is this printed ear intertwines embedded electronics. These Princeton researchers basically 3D-printed cells and nanoparticles, and then combined a small coil antenna with cartilage to create this “bionic” ear, according to the university.

The result was a fully-functional organ that can hear radio frequencies a million times higher than our human ears, lead researcher Michael McAlpine told Mashable.

Nor is 3D printing the only source of important medical innovations. The WSJ reports on creative technologies devised to help patients take their medicine on time. This may seem like small potatoes, but irregular use of medication leads to “hundreds of millions of wasted dollars” every year, according to the story. The new tools range from digestible sensors inside of pills to bottles that turn colors and send text alerts when its time to take a pill. This is the kind of tech that could be useful to the growing body of elderly patients who have trouble managing their own care.

When it comes to solving our health care crisis, tech like this will be as or more important than top down federal policy. But in addition to gee-whiz new gadgets, great as these are, we need innovation in how health care is delivered.

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