Presently, the world seems to be enamored with 3d printing. This technology uses scanning and a special 3-dimensional printer to replicate or create an existing object. Instead of on paper, the object is “printed” using a variety of materials including plastics, polymers, and other specialized materials, depending on the type of printer and the intended use of the object. Many are aghast by the potential dangers of 3d printing technology. People worry about gun control, others question how it will affect copyright laws. Some even fear how it may be used in consumption. These shock-and- awe examples are making headlines, but few stop to think about medical miracles that are possible with using 3d printing.
Scientists have already learned how to infuse living cells into the compound material used in 3d printers. TeVido BioDevices, an Austin, Texas startup company, is learning to make breast tissue for cancer patients. The article explains that “200,000 women diagnosed annually in the US with breast cancer, 60% of whom choose lumpectomies that leave their natural breasts abnormally shaped.” 3d printed tissue will quickly remedy this abnormality, and since it can be created using cells from the patient, there is little chance of rejection.
This is in theory, of course. Perfecting the 3d skin printing process and then getting the FDA stamp of approval is still years – and millions of dollars – away. That doesn’t mean that medical use of 3d printers is at a standstill. Other companies are leveraging the technology’s ability to quickly create accurate and custom 3d objects as a way to better fit prosthetic devices. For the cost of about $150, Liam Dippenaar, a 5-year-old who was born without fingers, received a functioning, 3d-printed hand.
These examples only scratch the surface of 3d printing, but it’s clear that the technology is already changing lives. Although still in its infancy and likely to encounter inevitable legal and ethical controversies, 3d printing will allow people to have a higher quality of life.