You can get almost anything 3-D printed these days, from toys, to food, to a printer that prints copies of itself. We've talked about the medical uses of 3-D printing before, and the possibilities are only growing as both technology and our ability to use this technology to its full potential improve. With so many possible uses, it's no wonder that there are any number of interesting, and sometimes just plain odd, topics to discuss in the world of 3-D printing medical devices, so I've rounded up a few of my favourites.
- You might have seen this one in the news or floating around the internet recently: a company called Limbitless Solutions (you've got to love the punny name) created a bionic arm that looks like part of Iron Man's suit and had it presented to its 7-year-old recipient by none other than Robert Downey Jr. While 3-D printing prosthetic limbs isn't really a new idea, this story is a great example of the customization potential that 3-D printing offers. In practical terms, it's likely that these customization capabilities will continue to be used more for individually fitting devices than for creating superhero arms, but it still goes to show just how many possibilities there really are.
- Creating models for surgeons to practice on is another fairly familiar use of 3-D printing, but up until now, these models haven't quite lived up to the real thing. That might be about to change, however, because a Japanese company has created a new wet model that not only mimics the texture of human organs but can also do things like bleed. These wet models obviously hold significant promise for use during surgeon training as well as for experienced surgeons looking to practice for specific procedures, but as someone who grew up doing theatre, I can't help but think that, if nothing else, you can probably expect to see this kind of blood oozing model showing up in your favourite medical show at some point down the road.
- Okay, so maybe the ability to get a 3-D printout of your unborn baby isn't strictly medtech related, but I couldn't resist including it here. A further extension of the 4-D ultrasound trend, you can now use those same images to have a model created of your kid before it's even born. While at the moment these serve less practical purpose than the 4-D ultrasounds they're based on unless you count the ability to embarrass your teenager with its 3-D printed doppelganger 15 years from now as practical given the way the use of 3-D printing in medtech is going, I wouldn't be surprised if one day we found a use for these as something more than a keepsake.