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Is 3D printing the miracle cure for baldness?

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Photograph of the nourish3D 3D printer at the IDTechEx Show! in Berlin 2019

3D printing has been touted as being a manufacturing cure-all for a whole host of different applications. The reality is very different, but this doesn’t stop the onslaught of news articles proclaiming 3D printing to be the answer. Here’s a roundup of the weird and wonderful world of 3D printing in 2019.

3D printing: the cure for baldness?

US dermatologists in Columbia University have used 3D printing to try to find a solution for a common but often overlooked complaint: baldness. Finding a cure for this pervasive medical condition remains elusive, in part because of the difficulty encountered when researchers try to culture hair follicles in the lab to explore new treatments. Unlike mouse or rat cells taken from the base of hair follicles, human cells do not produce hair cells when cultured. As Angela Christiano, a professor of dermatology at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, explains, “Cells from rats and mice grow beautiful hairs, but for reasons we don’t totally understand, human cells are resistant”. As one potential solution to baldness could be culturing hair in a lab before transplantation, overcoming human cells sluggishness could unlock the cure.

Christiano and colleagues have enlisted the benefits of 3D printing to try to solve this challenge, as “previous fabrication techniques have been unable to create such thin projections so this work was greatly facilitated by innovations in 3D printing technology” explained Erbil Abachi, first author on the paper published in Nature Communications. Although this process requires optimisation, the team are confident that it could pave the way for new transplantation techniques – which are currently limited by the number of donor hairs – or provide a new laboratory environment for the testing and screening of drugs to treat the men and 30 million women in the United States currently affected by baldness.

Affordable chocolate 3D printers

Another application area that occasionally hits the headlines but generally stays under the radar of public consciousness is 3D printing of food, but a German startup, Print2Taste has launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring the mycusini, a chocolate 3D printer, into to homes globally. The mycusini 3D Choco has a price point of €198 and is expected to ship to backers by the end of the year. “With our many years of experience in the professional field of 3D food printing, we want to make the benefits of this amazing technology available to everybody”, said Print2Taste’s Eva Schlosser. “With mycusini, consumers will get access to the creative world of 3D Choco printing at a very attractive price.”

How does the mycusini work? Like all 3D food printers, it extrudes small amounts of chocolate in a layerwise fashion. Because the required viscosity of the extruded chocolate is very specific, the material compatible with the mycusini comes in the form of “Choco refill” cartridges that are only available from Print2Taste. In addition, the formulation differs from most chocolate as instead of cocoa butter, other vegetable fats such as coconut fat are used so that curing takes place more quickly. Both of these features may pose a significant barrier to adoption, however, Print2Taste are working on a “true” chocolate refill that uses cocoa butter.

3D printing vitamins

In a very similar vein, 3D printing can be used to create custom supplement formulations. This is the concept being developed by Remedy Health, who demonstrated their 3D printer nourish3D at the IDTechEx Show! in Berlin 2019. Remedy Health offer customers a bespoke tailor-made seven-layer gummy snack, with each layer containing a different nutritional supplement or vitamin to address any deficiencies in their diet. Customised 3D printed supplements delivered to your door on a subscription model appeals to a younger demographic who are increasingly conscious of their health, but want a solution that is tailored to their requirements, and flexible enough to change frequently as these needs evolve.

3D printing is the perfect technology to enable this, as cofounder and CEO Melissa Snover explains, “With Nourish3D, I think we have now found a very good use case for food 3D printing, which makes a better go-to-market option than what is currently readily available. The new concept actually gets people the exact nutritional supplements they want and need without any extras or wastage. It’s a sugar free, plastic-free, vegan solution”. However, strangely enough, only buying what you need looks set to incur a significant price premium, with a rolling fee of £39.99 or annual monthly fee of £30, making this product only really suitable for the very health-conscious with significant disposable income.

Of course, 3D printing is more than the headline-grabbing applications, and IDTechEx cover the full range of different printers, materials and various use cases in their range of market research reports. For more information about all aspects of 3D printing research, visit www.IDTechEx.com/research/3D.

IDTechEx guides your strategic business decisions through its Research, Consultancy and Event products, helping you profit from emerging technologies. For more information on IDTechEx Research and Consultancy contact research@IDTechEx.com or visit www.IDTechEx.com.

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SA’s Internet goes down again

South Africa is about to experience a small repeat of the lower speeds and loss of Internet connectivity suffered in January, thanks to a new undersea cable break, writes BRYAN TURNER

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Internet service provider Afrihost has notified customers that there are major outages across all South African Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as a result of a break in the WACS undersea cable between Portugal and England 

The cause of the cable break along the cable is unclear. it marks the second major breakage event along the West African Internet sea cables this year, and comes at the worst possible time: as South Africans grow heavily dependent on their Internet connections during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

As a result of the break, the use of international websites and services, which include VPNs (virtual private networks), may result in latency – decreased speeds and response times.  

WACS runs from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, up the West Coast of Africa, and terminates in the United Kingdom. It makes a stop in Portugal before it reaches the UK, and the breakage is reportedly somewhere between these two countries. 

The cable is owned in portions by several companies, and the portion where the breakage has occurred belongs to Tata Communications. 

The alternate routes are:  

  • SAT3, which runs from Melkbosstrand also in the Western Cape, up the West Coast and terminates in Portugal and Spain. This cable runs nearly parallel to WACS and has less Internet capacity than WACS. 
  • ACE (Africa Coast to Europe), which also runs up the West Coast.  
  • The SEACOM cable runs from South Africa, up the East Coast of Africa, terminating in both London and Dubai.  
  • The EASSy cable also runs from South Africa, up the East Coast, terminating in Sudan, from where it connects to other cables. 

The routes most ISPs in South Africa use are WACS and SAT3, due to cost reasons. 

The impact will not be as severe as in January, though. All international traffic is being redirected via alternative cable routes. This may be a viable method for connecting users to the Internet but might not be suitable for latency-sensitive applications like International video conferencing. 

Read more about the first Internet connectivity breakage which happened on the same cable, earlier this year. 

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SA cellphones to be tracked to fight coronavirus

Several countries are tracking cellphones to understand who may have been exposed to coronavirus-infected people. South Africa is about to follow suit, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From Israel to South Korea, governments and cell networks have been implementing measures to trace the cellphones of coronavirus-infected citizens, and who they’ve been around. The mechanisms countries have used have varied.  

In Iran, citizens were encouraged to download an app that claimed to diagnose COVID-19 with a series of yes or no questions. The app also tracked real-time location with a very high level of accuracy, provided by the GPS sensor. 

In Germany, all cellphones on Deutsche Telekom are being tracked through cell tower connections, providing a much coarser location, but a less invasive method of tracking. The data is being handled by the Robert Koch Institute, the German version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In Taiwan, those quarantined at home are tracked via an “electronic fence”, which determines if users leave their homes.  

In South Africa, preparations have started to track cellphones based on cell tower connections. The choice of this method is understandable, as many South Africans may either feel an app is too intrusive to have installed, or may not have the data to install the app. This method also allows more cellphones, including basic feature phones, to be tracked. 

This means that users can be tracked on a fairly anonymised basis, because these locations can be accurate to about 2 square kilometers. Clearly, this method of tracking is not meant to monitor individual movements, but rather gain a sense of who’s been around which general area.  

This data could be used to find lockdown violators, if one considers that a phone connecting in Hillbrow for the first 11 days of lockdown, and then connecting in Morningside for the next 5, likely indicates a person has moved for an extended period of time. 

The distance between Hillbrow and Morningside is 17km. One would pass through several zones covered by different towers.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that South African network providers have agreed to provide government with location data to help fight COVID-19. 

Details on how the data will be used, and what it will used to determine, are still unclear. 

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