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artery graft, or a saphenous vein graft, or a
cephalic vein, or an internal mammary artery—
it’s a perpetual issue with trying to the find the
right graft, the right diameter, with properties
that will allow it to serve as an effective conduit
and not cause spasms,” he said. “Being able to
print artificial vessels would be a major step forward in any vascular surgery.”
Ultimately, the goal is to one day be able to
print entire functional organs for use in human
transplantation; these organs, created from a
patient’s stem cells, could avert the need for
immunosuppressive drugs and alleviate the
ever-growing need for donor organs. 12 Achieving that aim is years away. The complexity of
replicating a biologically viable liver or heart
via 3-D printing is beyond the current scope of
the technology, but the science is continuously
As the capabilities of 3-D technology advance
and lead to improved patient safety and out-
comes, the surgeons interviewed for this article
predict that 3-D printers will be as common in
hospitals as CT scans within a decade. “It’s the
same thing I told a medical student last week,”
said Dr. Singh. “I’ve been in practice for nine
years, and I don’t do a single operation the same
way I did nine years ago. The ultimate goal is
to provide equivalent or superior care and out-
comes for your patients and minimize their
complications, and if you have a technology that
is affordable or that will become affordable as it
continues to be developed, you can resist it all
you want, but the wave is going to sweep over
you, and we have seen that with every sort of
minimally invasive approach.”
“There are some incredible benefits of this
technology for the surgeons who are willing to
get out of their comfort zone,” Dr. Woo added.
“I firmly believe that 3-D printing is here to stay
and it’s actually going to revolutionize not just
the practice of surgery, but really the practice
of medicine.” ♦