Here is a quick list re-visiting some of the more innovative and thought-provoking applications or ideas surrounding 3D printing in the sciences over the past few years:
- Printing human tissue. Recent news shows we’re able to use 3D printing more effectively to create intricate models of organs for learning purposes. However, a smattering of experts across disciplines have made progress in printing processes that utilize the stuff of the human body to create swaths of tissue that can be used for grafts or testing. The purported next step is the more complex arrangement of tissue into whole organs that are custom designed for the patient, limiting the possibility of rejection and alleviating the long wait times on transplant lists.
- Antimicrobial teeth. A boon to those of us with an arduous dental history, the development of bacteria-resistant tooth implants may be more than a distant fever dream. Dutch scientists have printed and initially tested tooth prototypes against human saliva, but are still a ways off from starting patient trials.
- Smart textiles. When it comes to wearables, 3D printing is appearing in some surprising ways. Take this architectural swimsuit top meant to help clean the ocean by locking aquatic contaminants away in its fabric. Or this Anouk Wipprecht design of a “spider” dress that responds to the wearer’s emotional state. A great deal of industry seems to be focused on the concept of wearable electronics, which is sure to gain momentum from the recent production of a flexible graphene fabric.
- The advent of 4D printing. Harvard researchers have revealed new research of 4D printing techniques that allows for the creation of materials that can interact with their environments and can experience temporal changes (thus adding a fourth dimension to 3D applications). They have developed mathematical models that can suggest exactly how the material is to be printed in order to produce the desired changes in shape. One of the primary suggested uses for 4D printing is the fabrication of self-building objects. But as presented in the photo above, the world of 4D printing and haute couture is also colliding.
- Printing custom drug formulations. Lee Cronin at Glasglow University, as told to the Guardian in 2012, envisions a day where we would be able to print our prescriptions at home. The New York Times recently released this article about the continuing challenges of drug shortages that can arise from impacts to manufacturer facilities, or when drug production is limited due to concerns about bankability. The ability to more easily synthesize medical compounds could revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry.