In the spirit of ‘3D Printing Day,’ check out 5 fascinating health-focused projects from 2013

As 3D printing nears its tipping point in the consumer world, of course someone had to go and name a day after it. The culprit? GE, who’s been expanding its use of additive manufacturing and has said the technology could touch more than half of its manufacturing in 20 years.

Instead of participating in its cutesy Twitter contest to celebrate ‘3D Printing Day,’ let’s instead take a look at some of the most interesting uses of 3D printing in medicine this year. Here are five projects that caught my eye:

1. Researchers at Princeton University see the potential for using 3D printing to intertwine biological tissues and electronics to create an artificial ear that’s even more sensitive than a human ear.

2. Meanwhile, University of Nottingham researchers are also experimenting with using 3D printing to combine technologies. They’ve developed a bone implant that consists of a 3D printed bone scaffold coated with 3D printed stem cells. The vision is that after it’s implanted, the scaffold degrades over time and is replaced by a stem cell-grown bone.

3. Doctors at the University of Michigan made a tiny trachea splint out of biopolymers to save a 2-month-old baby’s life.

4. A UK engineer launched the Open Hand Project to make prosthetic hands more affordable to amputees by 3D printing them. A crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo brought in more than $70,000 for the project.

5. A chemist at the University of Glasgow outlined his vision for turning a 3D printer into one that could assemble molecules to print medicine more cheaply and at the point of need.