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Many of us have seen or heard of the beautiful art that 3-D printing makes, but now people are taking it to the next level. Enabling the Future is a global network of volunteers that is helping people around the world by using 3-D printing to give them a prosthetic hand.
The cost for a prosthetic arm or hand is extremely expensive, especially for young people because their bodies are still developing. The cost would be around $50,000 and since they would need a bigger one as their body grows, the cost would continue to climb. Plus most insurance companies do not cover this, since it’s something of an aesthetic nature.
This program is led by volunteers around the world that get matched with people who need a 3D printed arm or hand. The program has also inspired new curriculums in robotics at over 30 middle and high schools that are printing hands in their school’s 3D printers.
This program is a great way to see into the future because if something like this can change the lives of people, imagine how it would be if organs could be implanted the same way. Surgeon Anthony Atala has been working on an experiment that could someday help solve the organ-donor problem that exists in this country. A 3D-printer has the ability to use a variety of biomaterials so that cells can be printed in gel or rigid scaffolds.
The goal of bioprinting is to be able to print complex structures, like kidneys. They use the biomaterials as a bridge so the cells from that organ can walk on that bridge and help regenerate that tissue. Dr. Atala has already built a bladder that was given to a young man that had spinal bifida and is one of several successful experiments.
Surgeons like Atala have been working hard for many years currently developing the best ways to make this a reality for the millions of people on the waiting list for organ transplants. Unfortunately the vast majority of people on an organ waiting list die because there are just not enough organ donors.