From food to shoes to ears, 3D printing is taking some big leaps forward for advancing the application of innovative ideas for human medical problems. 3D printing is not a new technology, it has been used in the manufacturing industry since the early 1980's to craft working prototypes—enter 2014, the advent of affordability meets scalability equaling accessibility.
Over the past 24 months, we have seen the use of 3D printing by healthcare to help them visualize complex human anatomy, making accurate printed plastic models from high resolution and technically rendered CT, MRI and echo. Children's National Medical Center uses this technology to help their surgeons prepare for complex procedure, taking out the risks and speeding up successful outcomes. Healthcare is also wielding this technology to make patient specific stents, plates, prosthetics and other implantable fabricated biopolymers. The FDA has cleared OsteoFab's Patient Specific Cranial Devices and MIT Technology Media Lab is printing sockets of various materials to ease comfort for amputees' residual limbs.
But the past and current use of 3D printing is really to solve speed, comfort and information visualization for healthcare practitioners and patients. What are some of the future potential applications of 3D printing and where can the technology take us?
The technology’s next breakthrough application could revolutionize our food system. PhD researcher Marin Sawa has developed an “Algaerium Bioprinter” that can produce nutrient-rich microalgae to alleviate food security issues in the future. And US start-up Modern Meadow believes it can print meat without slaughtering any animals—by making artificial raw meat using a 3D bioprinter.
from Katia Moskvitch Technology reporter, BBC News
"To bioengineer meat, the scientists first get stem cells or other specialised cells from an animal via a common procedure known as biopsy.
Stem cells are cells able to replicate themselves many times, and also can turn into other specialised cells. Once the cells multiplied to sufficient numbers, they are put into a bio-cartridge.
So instead of traditional ink or a material like plastic, the 3D printer cartridge contains something called bioink made of hundreds of thousands of live cells.
Once printed in the desired shape, the bioink particles naturally fuse to form living tissue."
Another breakthrough could be protocells, minute structures made from something like living material, cultured to mimic living cells and their properties and then put to use in various products to make them alive and regenerative. While Protocells are synthetic, they do have lifelike qualities which London-born researcher, Shamees Aden says might one day be 3D printed in such a way that they could respond, react and adapt with the physical world around them.
Scientists, biologists, medical researchers and physicians are morphing into mavericks. Proposing possible uses and product concepts for the life sciences—pushing the line between live and not-life. One of those mavericks is Martin Hanczyc.
With technology at their fingertips, advancements of medicine and scientific research seem to be moving at an accelerated clip. One strong driver will be the evolution of the 3D printer to meet the needs of radical applications. In September 2013, MIT researchers unveiled a new, smarter way to 3D print, a way to print objects regardless of scale. Hyperform is a new strategy for designing and printing large objects irrespective of a printer’s bed size. As we move into the coming months, the convergence of practicality of application, the scalability of the technology, and the maverick approach to solving problems will all lead to a very different future for Life Sciences and Healthcare.