3D PRINTING: ADDING A NEW DIMENSION
Though it appears like science fiction, it is not. 3D printing is fast becoming a part of our day to day life in different areas. Life science, biopharma, medicine and healthcare are few such important areas where 3D printing is playing a crucial role and will further continue to do so much more in the coming years as it is becoming more accessible. It once appeared like a futuristic technology far away from the present time, but very fast it started becoming a promising reality. Applications of 3D printing in healthcare and medicine field appears to be quite broad. In the span of just 17 years after the first pilot experiment with modified inkjet printers in 3D printing of molecules and cells in 2000, the medical field sees endless possibilities. 3D printing offers great potential in different areas like pre-operative planning, developing innovative tools that would enhance medical procedure, anatomical models, rapid prototyping, prosthetics, reconstructing bones, organs and body parts in forensic pathology and tissue engineering applications.
In dental implants and hearing aids 3D printing is displacing traditional methods of production. A Belgium based start-up producing medical devices has developed 3D printed titanium jaw implant. There are several such examples. Just a few months back doctors in Dubai saved a life of an Omani woman using the 3D printed model of the patient’s brain dilated arteries that helped the complex brain surgery. At cancer research centre in Europe, researchers are using 3D printers for cancer cells and study the growth and development of tumors.
In Asian region also, a lot of development is happening in the 3D printing field. South Korea is the leader in 3D printed medical devices. It is the first country in the world to approve 3D printed cranial skull implants. While Korea is considering tax exemptions on 3D printing research, in Japan 3D printing cost is allowed in health insurance. Chinese government has dedicated $ 6.5 million for 3D printing research. With the largest patient population in the world, Asia has the highest growth potential for 3D printing in healthcare and medicine.
One recent and most important development in the field of 3D printing is that US Food & Drugs Administration (FDA) has now released the first ever technical guidance for manufacturers using 3D printed technology for medical products that include devices, medication and human tissues. It had published the draft guidelines in May and after considering suggestions on that, it has now come out with the final guidelines. The guidance is based on a review of more than 100 marketed devices manufactured using 3D printing with an aim to expedite approval and marketing of 3D medical products.
This guidance will help many other countries in forming policies on 3D printing in the medicine field. Many countries are still groping to find out how to tackle with this new development and how to regulate it. Any technology based industry sector requires guidelines, rules & regulations to flourish. It is more true for the medical field as people’s lives and health are connected to the innovations and hence safety is the most important factor. Proper regulations can help the sector to grow in right directions. 3D printing is expected to bring in a major job transformation also in the medical and healthcare sector.
A leading 3D printing company in Belgium has also expressed similar views when it requested unified set of common guidelines and global standards to measure economic and clinical benefits of 3D printing. Common guidelines will help in the growth of 3D printing. In such a situation US FDA guidance will not only guide the 3D printing industry in US, but will also guide other countries to form their own policies.