What if you could print out a bone to take the place of one that's broken? Or create new skin on a printer when you've suffered an injury? We're not quite at the point where we can simply print out a replacement body part - although some scientists believe that may be a reality within 20 years - but a husband and wife research team at Washington State University announced last week that they can manufacture bones with 3D printing technology.
Susmita Bose and her husband, Amit Bandyopadhyay, have managed to produce a bone-like material that can actually support the growth of actual bone cells, meaning an artificial "scaffolding" can be used to repair an injury, but will gradually dissolve while new bones grow around it.
To make the artificial bones, Bose and Bandyopadhyay used that most unglamorous of office devices: an inkjet printer. True, it's a 3D printer, but it's commercially available and uses a basic inkjet head create the material one layer at a time. According to one report, each layer is just half the width of a human hair.
Surprisingly enough, this isn't the first time that printers have been put to use to create body parts. Last year, researchers developed a 3D bio-printer that can create human tissue and organs. Organovo, the company behind the project, is currently only working to print simple tissues (skin, muscles, blood vessels) for research purposes, but hopes to move into more complex territory in the future.
But while medical advances are surely some of the best uses of 3D printing technology, they are not the only ones. In recent years, all sorts of new applications have been found, letting developers print everything from buildings to clothing to spare parts.
And if there's anything that will help make the world a better place, it's got to be the ability to print in chocolate: