Video Tip of the Week: NIH 3D Print Exchange

The other day I was joking about how I was 3D-printing a baby sweater–the old way, with yarn and knitting needles. And I also mentioned that I assumed my niece-in-law was 3D-printing the baby separately. I’ve been musing (and reading) about 3D printing a lot lately–sometimes the plastic model part, sometimes the bioprinting of tissues part. So when I came across this new NIH 3D Print Exchange information, it seemed worthy of highlighting.

Although I haven’t had access to a 3D printer setup yet (although I’m planning to take a course soon at the local Artisan Asylum), I’ve been seeing quite a bit of chatter about it. Some folks are designing gel combs (rather than paying ridiculous catalog prices). Some folks print skulls and other bones. There is so much opportunity for a wide range of helpful scientific applications across many fields that it seems an introduction to this topic would be wise for a lot of folks.

So when someone pointed me to the 3D printing initiative at NIH, I was hooked. The public announcement and site launch was in mid-June, according to their blog and press release. I was catching up by reading other items on their site, including some press coverage that provides context for this and other government initiatives on 3D printing. Make Magazine’s piece “The Scramble To Build is On!” notes that the Smithsonian and NASA also have projects underway. But for me, molecules in 3D are what I’m most interested in, so I’ll focus on this NIH version below.

An intro video provides an overview of the kinds of things that will be available on their site. But there’s also a YouTube channel with more.

At the site now you will find a number of ways to get started. At the “Share” navigation area you will find already there is a section for custom lab gear, anatomical stuff, and biological structures and even some organisms. So if you have models to share, you can load ‘em up. With the “Create” space you can quickly generate some items with a handy quick start feature. Because I’m fascinated with the beautiful structures of hemolysins (have you seen these things?) I picked one out, entered a PDB ID, and within a half hour I was notified that the printable model was available to me–and you can see it here. But you can build your own from scratch as well, of course. There are other tutorials that will help you get some foundations in place.

Hemolysin 3D printable modelOr you can look around–from the “Discover” page you can browse or search for examples of models people have done. At this time, there are 347 (including the one I just did yesterday). But there will be more. I want to get mine printed up, and then see some other proteins too.

Ok, so it’s not like I made a kidney or something (although we know that day is coming). Being able to think about the 3D printing process, file types, and various options are probably worth noodling on. Getting your feet wet with a little protein structure or organelle might be a good way to get started. Check it out, and start thinking in other dimensions.

Quick links:

NIH 3D Print Exchange:

Hemolysin for image:

Model Generated for hemolysin from PDB record:

Murphy S.V. (2014). 3D bioprinting of tissues and organs, Nature Biotechnology, 32 (8) 773-785. DOI: