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3D printers to build body parts

A medical team at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne has utilised 3D printing technology to build custom-made body parts such as muscle cells and cartilage, with the hopes of eventually being capable of manufacturing entire organs.

3D printing – also known as additive manufacturing – is part of a rapidly growing market whereby a print head deposits very thin layers of resin on top of each other in a specified fashion to create a 3D object based on a digital model. Instead of using traditional materials such as plastics or metals however, the team hopes that the printers will be able to create new body parts out of the patient’s own skin cells – a concept that Professor Mark Cook, director of neuroscience, has described as “quite incredible and limitless”.

Whilst similar projects are being conducted globally to recreate body parts, the partnership between St. Vincents and ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science have sought government assistance to accelerate proceedings, in order to position Melbourne in the forefront of this area of research.

The technology, created by companies such as 3D Systems  (NYSE: DDD) and rival Stratasys  (NASDAQ: SSYS), has the capacity to greatly improve the quality and speed of creating products and, as such, is being adopted by an increasing number of industries.

Phone manufacturers such as Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) have used 3D printers to build prototypes or parts for their phones, whilst Boeing (NYSE: BA) are also using the technology to create complex parts for its aircrafts. Furthermore, it is expected that 3D printer toys could become a multi-billion dollar industry in years to come.

Foolish takeaway

The unforeseen possibilities that 3D printers could offer are endless. The ability to create higher quality products or parts more efficiently is attracting more and more industries to the technology. With enormous room for expansion, investors in 3D printer creators such as 3D Systems and Stratasys should reap the benefits in the long-run.

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The Motley Fool’s purpose is to help the world invest, better. Click here now for your free subscription to Take Stock, The Motley Fool’s free investing newsletter. Packed with stock ideas and investing advice, it is essential reading for anyone looking to build and grow their wealth in the years ahead.  This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson. Motley Fool contributor Ryan Newman does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article.

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