Tuesday, June 6, 2017
3-D printing is the perfect example of the adage ‘What was once science fiction becomes science fact’. Where it once would have seemed ludicrous to suggest that you’d be able to ‘print’ a plastic and fully operational firearm, that particular Rubicon was crossed in 2013. At present, 3D printing is evolving rapidly, taking on challenges from a wide range of fields and presenting innovative solutions. Let’s have a look at some of the most ground breaking applications of 3D printing currently underway.
The inability to conceive is an issue which has brought untold sadness to couples all over the world, and whilst there are fertility treatments, such as IVF, available, these tend to be invasive, draining, expensive, and come with no guarantee of success. For women whose ovaries have been compromised - for example survivors of childhood cancer, most fertility treatments offer no hope. An innovation in the 3D printing of biosynthetic organs could, however, be about to change that.
Research published in the journal Nature Communications demonstrated the successful deployment of 3D printed biosynthetic ovaries in a mouse, leading to the conception and birth of healthy offspring. Because of the nature of ovarian cells, it is crucial that they are spherical, as well as porous. Developments in 3D printing allowed the researchers to create a gelatin ink that could be printed in the exact shape and consistency required. This gelatin sphere would then be used as a ‘scaffold’ in which healthy ovarian cells could be implanted. The success of the project opens up a whole new vista for the fight against many diseases and disorders, and 3D printed biosynthesis could have the potential to revolutionize medical treatments.
One of the most exciting developments in 3D printing is the strides being made in food printing, which has a host of applications and benefits. The key applications are medical, where the cost of healthcare means that 3D printing’s growing affordability is rendering it a viable solution. A particular avenue being tested is the treatment of people suffering from dysphagia, a disorder that leaves the patient unable to swallow food, and one that can affect the elderly, as well as those who have suffered strokes. They become reliant on pureed or mashed food, which looks unpleasant and often leads to a decreased appetite and malnutrition. 3D printing now allows for the creation of meals that look like the real thing - pizza, or pasta for example - but is actually formed from a printed puree. Alongside this, the purees can be enriched with patient specific nutrients, allowing for individual diets to be easily prescribed and supplied.
The 3D printing revolution is doing incredible things, and is still only in it’s infancy. The potential applications are getting more diverse and ambitious with each passing month, and the future developments in 3D printing will most likely have a profound impact on all of our lives.