Credit: The Atlantic

The promise of 3-D printing body parts

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there are about 30 million people who require prosthetic limbs, braces, or other mobility devices. These can be simple to make and inexpensive. As one veteran prosthetist says, “A patient comes in on Monday on crutches that leave them unable to carry anything. By Wednesday they are walking on a new leg and on Friday they leave with their life transformed.”

Yet more than eight in 10 of those people needing mobility devices do not have them. They take a lot of work and expertise to produce and fit, and the WHO says there is a shortage of 40,000 trained prosthetists in poorer countries. There is also the time and cost to patients, who may have to travel long distances for treatment that can take five days—to assess need, produce a prosthesis and fit it to the residual limb. The result is that unglamorous items such as braces and artificial limbs are among the most-needed devices to assist lives. Yet, as in so many other areas, technology may be hurtling to the rescue, this time in the shape of 3-D printing.

Ian Birrell in The Atlantic.