May 30, 2017 | By Julia

As 3D printed food looms ever larger on the horizon, an Australian researcher is looking into the medical benefits of the phenomenon—and she’s already come up with some unexpected findings. Dr. Aarti Tobin is Team Leader for the Meat Science team at the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Brisbane, Australia, where her research focuses on the role of 3D printed food for dysphagia sufferers.

Defined as a difficulty when swallowing food or liquids, dysphagia has been on the rise as the population gets older and older. The symptom is often linked to disease in the elderly, and is caused by issues such as reduced muscle control, stroke, neurological dysfunction, and loss of teeth. Much more than a mere annoyance, dysphagia is becoming a serious problem, leading to increased cases of malnutrition, dehydration, aspiration pneumonia, and even death.

Current solutions are unappetizing to say the least. Elderly care centres often address dysphagia by mincing or pureeing foods, which are then served with an ice cream scoop. More advanced techniques include modifying food textures, in addition to molding and restructuring food items.

While these methods do make food softer and easier to swallow for dysphagia sufferers, an obvious problem remains the lack of visual appeal. Seniors with dementia present a more serious issue: pureed and modified food often does not appear as recognizable food, meaning it is drastically less likely to be eaten.

But as Dr. Tobin recently showed at the 3D Foodprinting Conference at Monash University in Melbourne, edible additive manufacturing could present a viable long term solution. 3D printed food looks like real food, but can be made soft and palatable without sacrificing vital nutrition.

For red meat in particular, 3D printing presents a ground-breaking opportunity to add value to sub-par cuts, trims, and by-products through the development of 3D printing “meat ink.” Protein can be boosted to meet the needs of an aging population as well. (Meat & Livestock Australia drew similar conclusions about 3D printed meat earlier this month.)

CSIRO researchers have also stated that, in the years ahead, 3D printed food could help personalize our nutrition, an initiative they are already working hard on.

“Need more iron this morning after that busy weekend? What if our clever biosensing device could talk to our bench-top 3D printing food generator and create an iron-rich lunch designed especially for us? We’re starting to take sci-fi dreams like this to reality with our future science platforms,” says Pamela Tyers of CSIRO.

While 3D food printing may seem like a thing of the distant future, it’s beginning to see some real applications today, and the CSIRO additive manufacturing center, Lab 22, remains committed to applying knowledge of 3D printing in other materials (such as metal) and applying it to the world of food.

But as Dr. Tobin is quick to point out, there’s still a long way to go. New business models need to be created to best meet the demands of different markets. Personalized approaches to nutrients and textures, rather than printing the entire muscle product, is another requirement that needs to be taken into account.

Still, research organizations such as CSIRO show us that steps are already being taken towards developing, perfecting, and even standardizing the burgeoning industry of 3D printing food. In the years ahead, expect to see lots more work being done in this revolutionary field.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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