How 3-D printers are changing lives and making life just plain weird (video)

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Toddler Emma Lavelle (left) and a model of a fetus created with a 3D printer

We have to thank Charles Hull for inventing 3-D printing back in 1984. Now, applications of 3-D printing are seen in many industries: aerospace, automotive, consumer and military.

In the medical and healthcare worlds, 3-D printing applications are both edifying and mystifying.

Take the case of toddler Emma Lavelle, who didn’t have the function of her arms because of a congenital condition known as  arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. She had never lifted her arms to put candy in her mouth, never managed to hug anyone, never built a tower of blocks.

And then her mother heard about a new device — the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX) — at a conference in Philadelphia. The device, a custom-designed robotic exoskeleton, was too big for her even though the developers Tariq Rahman, Ph.D., head of pediatric engineering and research, and Whitney Sample, research designer, both from Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, had tried to make it smaller.

Yet, Emma at 2 was small for her age, and the device was metallic and too big for her. She needed something light and portable. In the end, the researchers used a 3-D printer from a Minnesota company named Stratasys, with its own storied history in 3-D printing, to create a WREX made of plastic that would fit her.

Now, 4-year-old Emma wears the WREX at home, preschool and in occupational therapy sessions. See the video of the “magic arms”, Emma’s name for the WREX.

If Emma’s story brings a tear to your eyes, another application of 3-D printing may prompt you to roll them.

As reported by Mashable, the Japanese have come up with a way to create a 3-D model of an unborn child. So, if you are not content with those 3-D ultrasound pics (that are quite freakish already), you can use the Fasotec 3-D printer to get a rendering of the fetus. What’s more, the model is to scale. You can either build the whole baby or focus on a specific part — such as the face.

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Arundhati Parmar

By Arundhati Parmar

Arundhati Parmar is the Medical Devices Reporter at MedCity News. She has covered medical technology since 2008 and specialized in business journalism since 2001. Parmar has three degrees from three continents - a Bachelor of Arts in English from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India; a Masters in English Literature from the University of Sydney, Australia and a Masters in Journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago. She has sworn never to enter a classroom again.
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