Another Dimension to 3D Printing

Most of us understand the basics of 3D printing; a machine that uses a variety of materials like titanium, wax, and plastic to create a three-dimensional object. But the technology being used today to print anything from violins to living organs may sound like science fiction compared to the simple plastic objects that were being created at the outset of 3D printing, just over 30 years ago. At TEDMED 2016, we are lucky to have some of the trailblazers that are driving these exciting developments in the scientific and medical applications of 3D printing.

One such example is a TEDMED 2016 Hive organization, the NIH 3D Print Exchange, led by Meghan Coakley, which is working to solve the problems of finding and creating 3D-printable models that are scientifically accurate. As part of a collaborative effort led by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the NIH 3D Print Exchange created an open website where users can browse, download and share educational material, tutorials, and biomedical 3D print files. This resource will prove invaluable for novice students and experienced researchers alike, by helping medical students grasp complex concepts, by assisting researchers in studying internal body structures, and by allowing doctors to more accurately plan for surgeries and inform their patients.

Image courtesy of Sujey Morgan.

One of the doctors using 3D printing in her practice is TEDMED 2016 Speaker, Sujey Morgan. As a maxillofacial prosthodontist at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, Sujey creates facial prostheses for those who have endured traumatic experiences, such as skin cancer, accidents and birth defects. The introduction of 3D printing has allowed Sujey to drastically decrease the amount of time it takes to create prostheses for her patients; cutting a 40-80 hour sculpting process down to just one hour of printing. The extra time allows her to outfit more patients with synthetic ears, noses, and mouths to restore a sense of normalcy to their lives and provide them with necessary tools for functions such as chewing, swallowing, and speech.

While Sujey’s prostheses are made of silicon, others are using 3D printing to create living organs and tissues. BioBots, a TEDMED 2016 Hive organization co-founded by Ricky Solorzano, has developed a 3D printer that uses biomaterials to build 3D living tissue out of human cells. Bones, muscle tissue, and cartilage have all been fabricated using the Biobot 1 bioprinter; Biobots’ first edition of their desktop size printer. With the size and cost coming in way below the average 3D printer on the market, Biobot 1 provides opportunities for labs with minimal resources to make a huge impact.

An image of Kaitlyn’s “Hovalin.” Image courtesy of Kaitlyn Hova.

With a similar interest in making 3D printing more accessible to the public, TEDMED 2016 Speaker Kaitlyn Hova has created an open source, 3D-printable violin, called the “Hovalin 2.0.” As a devoted musician and neuroscientist, she understands the impact that both fields can have on a young person’s life. But with many school arts programs being cut, and STEM programs taking their place, students don’t always have the opportunity to experience the power of music and the arts. With the Hovalin and its accompanying software, Kaitlyn seeks to inspire kids to make instruments of their own, thereby using science to breathe life back into the dwindling music programs.

We’re inspired by the unique and meaningful solutions each one of these speakers and entrepreneurs has found to advance the field of 3D printing. Join us at TEDMED 2016 to learn more about these stories and thoughts on the future of health and medicine.