Medical 3D Printing: Where Are We Now?

In 2015, market research firm Gartner projected that medical 3D printing would become the pioneering field that would drive additive manufacturing (AM) into the mainstream in two to five years. Four years have passed, so we’ve decided to examine the industry to determine if Gartner’s predictions have come true.

Gartner’s 3D printing hype cycle curve from 2017, the most recent graph made public by the firm. (Image courtesy of Gartner.)

In this article, we’ll explore a handful of medical 3D printing stories from the past year to gain perspective on the level of adoption at which the technology stands.

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Could 3D printed microscopes improve water testing?

Manual tests for safe drinking water can be slow and error-prone. A team of academics is trying to change that

WaterScope creates 3D printed microscopes to test water quality.Like many people, Alexander Patto was keen to move away from academia after his PhD. He wanted a job that would have a tangible impact on the world, so when an opportunity came up to investigate water testing in the developing world, he jumped at the chance. Together with a team of academics from the University of Cambridge, Patto, a biologist, worked on a simple way of testing bacterial contamination in drinking water.

“The current systems are very slow and complex,” says Patto. To get a robust result “there is a lot of manual sampling”, which can also lead to “a lot of human error”, he says. “What we’re trying to do is make it very, very simple, so that anybody can do a test, regardless of their skillset [and the] resources available, and still get a result that is scientifically robust.”

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Radiological Society of North America post guidelines for 3D printed anatomic models

3DPI reporting from the heart of Formnext 2016. Image shows full color 3D printed anatomical hearts by Stratasys. Photo via: Michael PetchA special interest group of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) has posted a set of guidelines, suggesting standard approaches for 3D printing in healthcare.

Recognizing the need for evidence-based recommendations in the sector, these guidelines have been developed over a period of two years, in review of over 500 recent papers published on the topic.

As the abstracts states, “The recommendations provide guidance for approaches and tools in medical 3D printing, from image acquisition, segmentation of the desired anatomy intended for 3D printing, creation of a 3D printable model, and post-processing of 3D printed anatomic models for patient care.”

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3D printing part of an ‘unparalleled period of invention’

3D printing technology applications come alive in applications ranging from developing packaging machinery to producing personalized medical devices to printing custom medications in a patient’s home.

The FDA acknowledges that “advances in material science, digital health, 3D printing, as well as other technologies continue to drive an unparalleled period of invention in medical devices.”

Plastic grippers made via 3D printing. (Photo from igus.)

The perspective comes from a Nov. 26, 2018 statement by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Jeff Shuren, Director of the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, outlining transformative new steps to modernize FDA’s 510(k) program to advance the review of the safety and effectiveness of medical devices.

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3D method uses patients’ own cells to repair tissue damage

OCTOBER 17, 2018: A technician at OrganOvo works with a bioprinter in one of the labs clean rooms to create a 3-D tissue sample. Courtesy of OrganOvo.Patients waiting for an organ transplant may soon have a new treatment option — print out the organ or tissue they need using a revolutionary form of 3D printing that may one may day eliminate the need to wait on transplant donations.

Organovo, a biotech company in San Diego is leading the revolution in bioprinting and Boston area researchers are weighing the benefits of 3D-printed tissue.

“It’s about personalized and customized treatment,” said Xuanhe Zhao, a professor of mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He said 3D printing could eventually eliminate the need for transplant donations.

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3D printing offers new hope for war-wounded

Advances in medical technology are giving amputees more practical and adaptable options

After seven years of war, an estimated 86,000 Syrians are coping with losing a limb to amputation, according to the World Health Organisation and disability charity Handicap International. IRIN recently spent a day in neighbouring Jordan, exploring how 3D printing technology can produce a new generation of replacement limbs that are more comfortable and adaptable than traditional prosthetics.

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How ASCs can be held liable for 3D medical devices — And 5 strategies to avoid risk

3D-printed devices such as surgical instruments and implants offer treatment advantages for ASCs and hospitals but also entail liability risks if the device isn’t ‘manufactured’ properly, according to CNA Vice President of Underwriting Ryann Elliott.

The FDA defines a manufacturer as “any person who designs, manufactures, fabricates, assembles or processes a finished device.” Therefore, the FDA may be authorized to regulate and inspect healthcare facilities creating medical devices through 3D printing.

Facilities should implement these five strategies to mitigate risks:

1. Tracking. Implement procedures to track all 3D-printed products brought into the facility. Identify which physicians have the appropriate credentials and privileges to use the products.

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Lessons for medical device manufacturers using 3D printing

Last month, legal practitioners, industry, and academics gathered at The Legal, Regulatory and Business Conference on 3D Printing to discuss the legal, regulatory, and business issues that arise when products are manufactured using 3D printing or additive manufacturing techniques, rather than traditional manufacturing methods.

During the conference, 3D printing was described as the digital revolution, the fourth industrial revolution, a game-changer, and a disruptive innovation. Although the conference focused on all different types of 3D-printed products and uses, it is safe to say that the printing of medical devices falls under each of these descriptors, and may comprise some of 3D printing’s most innovative uses.

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Scientists successfully printed 3D human heart tissue

3D printing to disrupt healthcare

Medical technology continues to advance all the time, with life-saving procedures and medicines that were previously unheard of. Now, Global Data believe that 3D printing could be as disruptive to healthcare as the internet has been to retail.

Article pictureThe company initiated a study for its Disruptor Tech database, and the results revealed that 3D printing could revolutionise the supply chain by limiting the gaps between sourcing, production, and distribution. 3D printing has the ability to create ‘clinical trial ready’ devices without the need for expensive tools, computer-aided manufacturing, and computer numerically controlled manufacturing. As a result of this, price is lowered and waiting times are also reduced.

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