10 ways how 3D printing is transforming the biotech industry

A woman living on a dialysis machine is grown a new kidney using her own cells!  An old man struggling with age-related vision loss has his eyesight restored. A soldier suffers extensive burns and has his skin regenerated. This is a glimpse of regenerative medicine or 3D printing. The ultimate goal of this field is to develop therapies that can restore normal function to diseased organs.

So what is 3D printing? It’s a manufacturing process that involves the production of three-dimensional objects using a digital file. It does this by working in continuous layers, building on a product until it’s finished. The process requires a computer-aided design file which acts as the blueprint for the 3D printer. So with a little creativity and either some technical skills or an open-source design, people are using this method to produce amazing things.

In laboratory research and development, there are 10 really fascinating products or concepts that have evolved from the emergence of 3D printing.

1. iPhone microscope mounts


Now anyone with a smartphone has the power to take some quality pictures. And you can take a cellphone picture of an object in a microscope, but it takes some patience. These mounts could be developed for any number of phones and microscopes at such an affordable rate, that every lab could have them.

2. Print your own centrifuge


Yep, that’s right. Rather than spending a few hundred dollars on a commercially available centrifuge, you can print your own. Again, with the refined method of 3D printing, the technology is becoming available to the general population. In this example, another PrintMyLab contestant, Chris Takahashi, developed the “Fanfuge” for less than $10.

3. Hold on your baby before it is born


Knowing the gender of a baby before he or she was born seemed like a huge step forward in medicine. Then came 3D ultrasound scans. Now, 3D printing is taking us a step further by using software to print a 3D model of your unborn child!

4. Robotic surgery


Robotic-assisted surgery has been around for a while as a way to adapt to some of our natural limitations. Of course, the idea of sharp, sterile, cold machines performing an operation seems really frightening, even when there are doctors around. Instead, 3D printed robots may comfort patients a little better during a much-needed procedure. And due to the manufacturing process, these robots have the potential to be far less expensive.

5. Nanotechnology and 3D printing

RMIT has launched a new facility to drive advancements in micro and nanotechnologyCombining nanotechnology and 3D printing is something that is still in its very early stages, but we are now standing in the doorway of thousands of possibilities. Nanotechnology such as DNA origami has alone stirred a lot of interest within the life science industry, but when paired with the manufacturing potential of 3D printing, it’s speculated to significantly advance medical treatments.

6. Sectoring your petri dish


To ensure everything is equal and indeed in the spec, Christof Osman designed the “Petristencillator” for Teklalab’s PrintMyLab contest. Seven master plates with grooves hollowed all the way through and divided into sections between two and eight were produced with a 3D printer. The master plates snap on a petri dish allowing anyone to draw evenly dividing lines. They’re reusable and they standardize the process. It would be handy for testing your antibiotics.

7. Fix broken equipment


When you use equipment, there will be accidents that will destroy a critical piece inside. Or sometimes time just takes its toll. Now, however, if one little piece breaks, you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars replacing the part if you have a 3D printer. Instead, you can draft your design, print it out, and pop it into place.

8. 3D Printed chemicals


It’s always exciting to see us catch up to “Star Trek” technology. And with the concept of 3D printing, we’re starting to approach the ability to have our own primitive Replicators. While it’s not quite 3D printing, this new technique for chemical synthesis has been described that way. Doctor Martin Burk of the University of Illinois and Revolution Medicines is using 3D printing techniques to synthesize chemicals, simplifying the process. What this means for biotechnology and medicine is that drug discovery and research could become more affordable and accessible in the near future.

9. Gel combs and moulds


I have seen this example come up a lot. While you can find some inexpensive combs, a 3D printer allows researchers to save money by efficiently producing their own, and they can be more customized as well. Thankfully, with open-source designs, you don’t have to be too CAD literate to produce your own comb.

10. 3D Printed scaffold 


When you think of 3D printing, you might associate it with printing plastic trinkets and possibly some metal components. But innovations in 3D printing have brought us to a point where research scientists and medical engineers can print biocompatible materials. For example, the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine uses this technology to print scaffolds for body parts that can be covered with cells and then grow into nose, bones, ears, etc.

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