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Lending a hand

olivia_w_handDetached prosthetic limbs in pink and blue add flare to a colorless scene of Bunsen burners and beakers, microscopes and magnifiers, computers and chemicals sprawling inside the Minimally Invasive Surgery (MIS) Biomaterials Laboratory at Washington University School of Medicine.

But the lab’s superstar — a desktop 3-D printer — appears nondescript, a big black box of a wallflower, a device resembling a microwave both in its appearance and in its revolutionary potential to transform an industry. The powerhouse prints three-dimensional body parts, including the prosthetic hands and arms in bubble-gum pink and baby-boy blue. The tool allows researchers to shape raw materials to meet specific health needs and, in the process, is heralding a new direction in patient care.

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