The NIH 3D Print Exchange is an online, community-driven portal where researchers and educators can download biomedical structure files that can be printed on a desktop 3D printer or through a 3D printing service provider. The site features novel online tools that allow users to convert their own digital 3D models into ready-to-print 3D file formats, eliminating the knowledge gap to allow users of all levels to create high-quality, scientifically accurate 3D prints. Users will also find tutorials on using 3D modeling software, and educational supplements to use 3D prints as hands-on teaching aids. Following Ignite, this team received $75,000 of funding and dedicated time and resources to continuing their effort.
Darrell Hurt (Project Lead), NIH
Nick Weber, NIH
Meghan Coakley, NIH
Jeremy Swan, NIH
Erin Fincher, NIH
Terry Yoo, NIH
David Chen, NIH
Vsevelod (Seva) Alekseyev, NIH
Project Lead’s Approving Supervisor
Yentram Huyen, Chief, Bioinformatics and Computational Biosciences Branch, Office of Cyber Infrastructure and Computational Biology, Nat’l Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH
The NIH 3D Print Exchange is the first government-sponsored website of digital 3D models suitable for 3D printing. The site enables researchers and educators by providing a trusted venue to easily create and discover community-contributed bioscientific and biomedical 3D models that are readily compatible with 3D printers. Users will also find video tutorials to learn how to create their own custom 3D prints. Educators and students from primary school to university level will find classroom supplements to use 3D prints as hand-on teaching aids.
New ways of visualizing scientific data can drive discovery, and at NIH, researchers are saving time and money using innovative 3D prints in the laboratory. But 3D printing technology has only recently become mainstream; digital 3D models are not necessarily “ready-to-print,” and there is a paucity of scientifically relevant and accurate prints available online. Converting a digital model into a 3D-printable format requires specialized software and a complicated workflow that can take over an hour, even for a skilled user. The NIH 3D Print Exchange provides novel, freely available, web-based tools that allow users to generate high-quality, scientific 3D printable models in only minutes, simply by uploading a file or typing in a database accession code.
A project advisory team was assembled of experts and educators who are all at the forefront of 3D modeling and printing for biomedical research, treatment, and education. They provided valuable feedback in monthly group meetings and one-on-one interviews, and tested the site during the closed beta release in January 2014.
The NIH 3D Print Exchange is now under construction in preparation for a public release in April 2014. The NIH Library will feature the 3D Print Exchange in their “Technology Sandbox” that makes 3D printers available to NIH researchers, and a number of other government agencies are interested in reusing our open-source tools and framework. The next steps for our project are to make the website robust and secure, and to continue to cultivate the local, national, and international community of researchers and science enthusiasts eager to use these specialized tools and 3D models.
HHS Ignite is the IDEA Lab’s incubator for Department staff with ideas on how to modernize government. Selected teams are introduced to startup methodologies for problem identification and project implementation. In the entrepreneurial spirit, Ignite projects are iterative, their impacts measurable, and their solutions scalable. This is one of 13 projects that participated in the beta year of Ignite which ran from June 2013 to February 2014.
Status Update: 3 Months Later
As part of Ignite’s approach to evaluating it’s effectiveness, each Ignite team is asked to provide information on their project status three months following their pitch. The 3D Print Exchange team received phase II funding of $25,000 from their home office as well as $50,000 from the IDEA Lab’s Ventures Fund. In addition, IT infrastructure and new hires have been provided to the team to help the project grow to its next stages. According to the project lead: “We have been able to present to the highest levels of executive leadership at NIAID and NIH, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Francis Collins.”