How Does 3-D Printing Work?

You can use a 3-D printer to make everything from custom sneakers to rocket parts. Here's how one local hospital is making history.

In the September issue of Boston magazine, Hub Health wrote about 3-D printing. But while most of the world is focused on 3-D printing prosthetic duck legs or gun parts, Boston-area researchers are using 3-D printing to save lives.

Scientists are using the technology to create living tissue. By using cell-laden “inks”, researchers are printing things like heart pieces that actually spontaneously beat. The goal is to one day be able to print organs that can be transplanted. That way, the need for organ donation would vanish and people waiting for transplants would not have to die while waiting for an organ. While the technology is still far off, some researchers, like the Wyss Institute’s Jennifer Lewis, say that working on animal models could be as soon as five years away.

From the Sept. issue:

Harvard’s Wyss Institute of Biologically ­Inspired Engineering, for example, is working on developing human tissue that could be used in the future as internal bandages. Bodies can heal small wounds naturally, but if a wound is above a critical size or too severe, it won’t heal on its own, says Jennifer Lewis, a professor at the institute. “By laying [the printed tissue] on top of the wound or placing it in the wound through surgery, it would integrate with your body and become a part of you,” she says.

But how does it work exactly? Check out this video from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which explains in detail how they are using 3-D printing to develop living tissue that could help burn patients, reduce the need for organ transplants, and replace metal and plastic implants for good.