Hospitals

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

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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