• A POSTnote on 3D printing in medicine will review the latest medical applications of the technology, such as the production of printed tissue and biologically active scaffolds.
  • It will examine the regulatory issues that such approaches raise.
  • Work on this POSTnote has been completed. You can read the published report online. Updated 17 March 2020.

3-D printing has become more widely used in medicine in recent years as the cost of the printers has decreased. Medical applications for 3-D printing include the manufacture of: 

  • tissue/organ slices for use in drug discovery and other research 
  • models of patient-specific conditions, such as tumours, to aid diagnosis and allow surgeons to rehearse complex surgical procedures 
  • bespoke (non-biologically active) permanent implants such as hip replacements and dental implants 
  • biologically active scaffolds and gels to repair damaged tissues and organs. 

Ultimately, the goal of current research in this area is to use 3-D printing to fabricate more complex tissues and organs for use in patients currently awaiting transplants. While this could potentially circumvent the current shortage of donor organs, the main obstacle to research in this area is replicating the complex vascular system that allows free circulation of blood and nutrients throughout organs and tissues. However, recent research has succeeded in producing 3-D printed tissues, such as skin and cartilage, as well as other components including an ear, trachea and cardiac valve.

A POSTnote on this subject will outline recent research on the use of 3-D printing in medicine and examine the regulatory issues that such approaches raise. A particular regulatory concern is that the proliferation of 3-D printing essentially decentralises the manufacture of implants and other medical devices, making it more difficult to enforce good manufacturing practice and other quality management processes.