|A 3-D model of influenza hemagglutinin.
Images courtesy of the NIH/NIAID.
The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in June launched a free, public online library of 3-D printable files called the NIH 3D Print Exchange (or simply the Exchange). It is the first government-sponsored website dedicated to 3-D printing of scientific and medical models, such as those of bacteria, proteins and anatomical parts.
Visualization of scientific data is a driver of discovery. Typically, converting a digital model into a 3-D printable format is technically demanding and time-consuming, sometimes taking hours even for those who are experienced with it. The Exchange aims to leverage the potential of 3-D printing by saving time, money and labor.
|A 3-D model of influenza virus.
The Exchange allows users to create, upload, download and share printable files of their data. “We created this website as kind of a way to have a YouTube-like experience, but instead of exchanging and sharing and commenting on and remixing videos … we are doing all of those same things with 3D-print files,” explains Darrel Hurt, a researcher at the NIAID who helped develop the Exchange, in a video about the new site.
The repository has a wide range of print-ready files, including an influenza virus, an insulin molecule and even a common lab microscope. Users of any skill level can obtain ready-to-print files within minutes either by uploading a digital 3-D model file or, in the case of proteins and macromolecules, by entering the Protein Data Bank or the Electron Microscopy Data Bank code. Users also can share files derived from other open-source modeling software, such as Blender, FreeCAD and the like.
Additionally, modeling tutorials, illustrated workflows and other educational materials are available to help novice users build custom 3-D prints. The Exchange also will host online forums for sharing tips and tricks, and users will be invited to upload files of models that can be used for teaching.
This initiative was directed by the NIAID in collaboration with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development and the National Library of Medicine. More information about the Exchange can be found at http://3dprint.nih.gov/.
Indumathi Sridharan (firstname.lastname@example.org
) earned her bachelor’s degree in bioinformatics in India. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular biochemistry from Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago. She did her postdoctoral work in bionanotechnology at Northwestern University and is now an intern at the Office of Technology Transfer at the National Institutes of Health.