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Science highlight: 3D printing takes a scientific turn

3D printing is becoming more common in science

Science Columnist

Published: Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 20:09

3dprinter

Courtesy of Ana Bernal

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Courtesy of Ana Bernal

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Courtesy of Ana Bernal

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Courtesy of Ana Bernal

Widely popular 3D printing company MakerBot makes its entrance into the 3D scanning marketplace with the announcement of the Digitizer, a desktop device capable of scanning objects placed on a rotating turntable and generating a digital representation. The technology is not perfect, as the company warns it will not work well with objects with shiny or reflective surfaces.

This announcement comes in the wake a growing mass of excitement for 3D printing technologies. Many believe it will begin to become commonplace within the next few years. Currently limited to the tech-savvy and extreme hobbyists, 3D printing could make manufacturing cheaper and faster. However, it is doubtful that it will replace traditional manufacturing altogether.

For now, use of the Digitizer is more relevant to enthusiasts and professionals who want to speed up the process of recreating simple objects on the computer for printing. This is technology that in the future, coupled with a capable 3D printer, could enable cheap and rapid duplication of commonplace physical objects, saving you a trip to the store or creating a spare set of house keys.

In the science world, biological tissue engineering hits a milestone as researcher Dr. Darryl D’Lima gives the world his own take on 3D printing by modifying a printer to produce living cartilage. Working from his lab at the Scripps Clinic, Dr. D’Lima has managed to print small pieces of cartilage in both cow tissue, as well as tissue samples from patients who underwent knee surgery. The technique involves altering a simple inkjet printer to push out living cells through the printhead.

Experts in the field warn that there are many practical as well as regulatory hurdles to be overcome before this technology will be able to be used in a clinical setting. Much more development will need to be done in order to produce viable, biologically realistic tissue. Even the simplest cartilage in the body, although lacking in blood vessels and nerves, still ends up forming many layers with different orientations and types of cells.

The long-term goal, eliciting futuristic visions, could be to have some technology akin to Dr. D’Lima’s implementation in the operating room, allowing for immediate on-demand replacement of cartilage.

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