3D-printing has been a popular technological stalwart for the last few years. From the world’s first 3D-printing restaurant in England to a 3D-printed gun that is actually operational, there’s been no shortage of head-scratching innovations that have come from a 3D printer.
And while these unique inventions are worthy of some attention, it would be nice to know that 3D printers can be used for something even greater.
Turns out, they can.
In fact, while we like to think that 3D-printing is new, it’s been around for decades. In that time, the world has seen some tremendous and truly innovative products come from this technology.
Take, for example, what happened at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine back in 1999: the first ever 3D-printed organ that was implanted into a human.
Scientists at the institute used 3D-printing technology to produce synthetic scaffolds of a human bladder, then coated the bladder with the cells of human patients.
That’s an incredible feat, even by today’s standards. But it was also 20 years ago. Surely 3D-printing has offered us more in two decades than the ability to create a 3D-printed pizza, right?
A 3D-printed medical cast could help bones to heal up to 40% faster. A black cast, known as the Osteoid, features a lattice pattern (filled with ventilation holes) that makes this cast far more comfortable (and less odor-offensive) than traditional casts.
But the 3D-printed cast also uses a low-intensity pulsed ultrasound system (LIPUS), which the designer claims will reduce the healing process of fractures by up to 38%.
Researchers at Washington State University have been able to print off replacement bones for patients in need of orthopedic or dental procedures.
When these “replacement” bones are surgically placed next to actual bones, they fill the role of a bridge, which helps the bone repair itself.
Once its job is done, the replacement bone dissolves with (according to the researchers) no apparent ill effects.
The thing about 3D-printing is that it produces incredibly lifelike results.
That’s what has expectant parents so giddy. Parents-to-be can now use 3D-printing to show off a real-life replica model of their fetus.
Say goodbye to hard-to-decipher black and white sonogram photos!
Fasotec, a Japanese 3D printing company – in conjunction with a Tokyo-based clinic – perform this service by first scanning a pregnant woman’s abdomen. The fetus is then printed with clear filament, enabling us all to see the semi-formed baby inside.
We’re not entirely sure how we feel about this one.
Animal testing is a reality of life. From razors to medicine and makeup, human-based products rely on animal testing to ensure that these products are safe for human use and consumption.
But the idea that we harm or endanger animals on purpose doesn’t sit well with most folks. Fortunately, 3D-printing could change all that.
A couple years back, Alan Faulkner-Jones demonstrated a new type of technology at London’s 3D Printshow. Faulkner-Jones said his modified MakerBot printer spits out micro-tissues and micro-organs that, in a few years’ time, could be used to test prescription drugs.
Not only would this spare rats and bunnies their lives, but it could also provide far more accurate results for humans.
In fact, Faulkner-Jones took it one step further. He suggested that an individual patient’s cells could be printed off to test their response to a given drug before it’s administered.
In today’s lightning-fast innovative age, we tend to see a lot of big ideas turn into flash-in-the-pan fads that die out within weeks or months.
3D-printing has survived this fate because it’s extremely adaptable. For as many pop-up food items and children’s toys that can be made from these printers, there are just as many ideas and innovations being printed that could quite literally change the world.
You never know where an idea will lead you. Sometimes all you need is a single blank page to get started.