1 year ago, Yehuda Ohion’s doctors discovered a malignant tumor in his eye socket. After a series of chemo and radiation, they were not able to rid Yehuda of the tumor. Professor Ziv Gil of Rambam Hospital explains, “The tumor began here in his eye socket and grew.  When it entered his eye, his vision was blocked.”

In order to rid Yehuda of the tumor, doctors removed a large part of his eye socket. At first, it was feared that if he had nothing to support the eye, he would lose it.  Then Professor Gil suggested printing a new socket on a 3D printer. “We made a mirror image of the healthy part of the socket,” explains Professor Gil. “After removing the diseased section, we put in the 3D part to replace it. We could not do this 2-3 years ago.”

Yehuda was thrilled it succeeded. “Just to think you might lose an eye puts you into utter depression.  It’s wonderful.”  While the 3D printers have been in use for some 30 years, it is only in the last few that they have become cheaper and accessible. At first, engineers utilized the printers to make models, the possibilities today are infinite.

The principle is the same for all printing.  First you make a model on the computer.  Then you add the appropriate material to the printer and then print away. The materials can include plastic, metal or rubber.  In the medical realm, this is a true revolution.

Colin was born without fingers on his right hand.  Providing prosthesis would be very expensive, since he was growing and would need a new size frequently.  Printing a prosthetic hand on the 3D printer greatly decreased the cost and simplified the process.  Other successful uses of 3D printing in the medical world include jaw implants, thigh implants like the one this woman uses to walk again, and even spinal vertebrae. This printed ear can even hear.

It’s not ready for use on humans, but it is on the way.  In this small lab in Tel Aviv University, we see the 3D printer printing heart muscle using a material which is live tissue. Dr. Tal Dvir explains, “The goal is to take a damaged organ and fix its functioning. We hope that one day we will not only be able to print the heart muscle, but an entire heart with all its parts. Hopefully, each hospital will have one and there will no longer be a long wait for transplants.”

There have been several attempts in the last 3 years to print soft tissue.  It is estimated that within 10 years, doctors will have this available for their patients. This will make a dramatic change in a world where thousands die each year waiting for transplants.