It’s easy to focus on the problems of the world, especially if you watch the news. There are still serious problems that need to be addressed, of course, but we should not forget all the amazing advances being made and all the people they help.
3D printing (creating a three-dimensional object from a digital file) is being used in many fields, including medicine. Doctors are now able to print models of tumors that serve to develop drugs, better understand how cancers grow and spread, and help them prepare for surgery. The University of Toronto, with the help of MaRS Innovations, uses burn victims’ own skin cells to print skin grafts for better healing. Researchers are looking into printing organs to test drugs and, down the road, use in transplants. Imagine if all the people waiting for a transplant could have access to this! No more organs sold on the black market. And if the organ incorporates the person’s own cells, it will also be less likely to be rejected. Best of all, 3D printing is being used in facial reconstructions. I say best because it gives people hope and an opportunity to live a more normal, more comfortable life. The best thing about 3D in this area is that the molds are custom-made to fit the person exactly and don’t involve using their own skin and bone for the reconstruction, saving them additional pain and healing time.
3D printing is also helping animals! A bald eagle whose beak was partially shot off by a hunter, leaving it unable to eat, received a prosthetic beak. A duck with a deformed foot was given a new one made of silicone. Dogs and horses and elephants are getting prosthetic legs and 3D paws/feet/hooves.
We’ve come a long way from the wooden pegs of old and the plastic legs that were rigid and uncomfortable. Robotic prosthetics act like a real limb, with fluid control, microprocessor monitors, muscle sensors and more. They provide better, more natural movement. Athletes are even using carbon fibre prosthetics to compete in the Olympics. Some think that the prosthethics give athletes an unfair advantage over the other competitors, which I think is amazing, advancement-wise. Robotic or 3D prosthetics are obviously not the same as having a skin-and-bone limb, but if I ever had to lose an arm or leg, I’m glad the technology is there and keeps getting better.
On another note, Sophie de Oliveira Barata, head of the Alternative Limb Project, is turning prosthetics into true works of art. Clients work with her to get the exact effect they want, from futuristic to quirky and eye-catching. I think it’s a great idea, in the same vein as getting beautiful tattoos to cover mastectomy or other scars. She also makes realistic-looking limbs that are incredibly life-like.
Finally, the pièce de resistance has to be exoskeletons, a wearable robotic suit designed to help paralyzed people stand and walk. They give some measure of freedom and independence back, sometimes after many years of being stuck in a wheelchair, which is huge. Additional benefits to walking with these devices is that it gets the muscles moving, the blood circulating and the digestive system working better. It’s worth watching a video to see how they work.
This was obviously only a very brief overview. 3D has tons of other medical applications and there are many more medical advances out there, including amazing new ways for people to see and hear.
I don’t know about you, but learning how these advances help people gets me really excited!