How Can 3-D Printers Save Lives?
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Have you ever thought about what you can print with 3-D printers?
3-D printers are a recent invention; you may know them as a device that prints objects in 3D. Your 3-D printer can be used to make a phone case, utensils, or jewelry. Now they are being used in the medical field, too. Doctors and research scientists are using 3-D printers to create objects such as hearts, bones, and even teeth!
First of all, what exactly is a 3-D printer? A 3-D printer is a type of printer that uses thin pieces of nylon string to make the plastic for the item you are creating. The printers come with the computer program to produce your object; the most popular program is MakerBot®. It can take a few hours to print a small fork, but, as the years go by,
processing power will become more stable, which will lead to faster printing.
According to doctor Bertalan Meskó, the 3-D printer can be very beneficial when it comes to medical uses. The printer can make objects that help people who need a life-saving transplant, for instance a heart or a lung. There are many people who have lung failure and need a new pair of lungs, but it’s not easy to get a working lung from another person. Since organ donations from donors can be difficult to obtain because of long waiting lists, printing an organ would be more reliable and efficient. Executives from Organovo, the first company to market 3-D bioprinting technology, believe that within the next ten years we will be able to print solid organs such as a liver, heart, or kidney (3dprintingindustry.com). Since so many people around the world are waiting for organ donations, imagine how many people’s lives will be improved with this technology!
Medical technicians have also learned how to create cells for the heart using 3-D printers. This technology is very advanced and can get expensive. Researcher and writer Joseph Young reported that students at Wake Forest University in North Carolina have created beating heart cells, and it cost around $24 million for the equipment they needed to accomplish this (3dprinting.com).
Jon Schull founded the non-profit company e-NABLE that provides new hands to young children. In the past, young children did not usually qualify for upper limb prosthetics because they outgrow them too quickly. However, with the use of 3-D printing, e-NABLE can produce prosthetic hands faster and at a much lower cost. In fact, with the current advances in technology, scientists can now scan a foot or any other body part into a 3-D printer. Some programs will scan the size of your foot and then print an accurate representation of it. e-NABLE and another large company, Robohand, are leading the way in this industry with the huge success of their 3-D printable prosthetics (3dprintingindustry.com).
Doctors and scientists aren’t the only ones creating prosthetics out of 3D printers; college students have created prosthetic arms, legs, and hands. This shows that no matter what your age, you can create something that will change the world and someone’s life (cbsnews.com).
There are other medical uses for 3-D printers, too. Hearing aids are mostly 3-D printed now, and now the dental industry has realized the advantages of using 3-D scanning, modeling, and printing tools. Scott Dunham, senior business analyst at SmarTech, thinks the dental industry will radically change within the next ten years, compared to what it looks like today. Dental labs around the world are already using 3-D printing technology to create accurate models of teeth and gums, dental implants, such as crowns, caps, bridges, braces and retainers, dentures (false teeth), and even dental surgical tools (smartechpublishing.com).
After finding out all of this information, you may be thinking, “My, I don’t want to spend $24 million on a 3-D printer just to make one bone or one tooth!” Don’t worry! The prices of 3-D printers range from $500 to $3,000, depending on what model and brand you get. Also, the nylon string isn’t too expensive for how little you need to use; it usually costs about $30 for a couple yards.
As you can see, it’s pretty amazing what you can do with 3-D printers today! Two years ago, these printers were still relatively new to the world, but now they are being used in the medical field to help save and improve people’s lives, which is fascinating. In a few more years, who knows what will be created with 3-D printers!