Applications of 3D printing in healthcare hold incredible potential for the future. Many experts are predicting that 2019 will be a game-changing year as advances in AI and other technology could allow 3D printing to surpass human capability alone. Designs would no longer be restricted to human intelligence and experience.
"Generative design is the ultimate thinking outside the box,” writes Avi Reichental in Forbes, “In this case, the box of the human mind. The paradigm allows for faster morphing and optimizing, which can save money, increase scalability and raise efficiency while consuming less energy and enhancing both form and function.”
FDA Ruling on Bioprinting
The FDA has indicated that 3D printing has medical applications for devices, biologics, and drugs already regulated by the FDA. While each of the three areas have specific guidance documents and QA regulations, the FDA recognizes 3D printing as important to the medical device fields of orthopedics, cranial implants, surgical instruments, dental restorations, and external prosthetics. It also allows 3D printing to be derived from CAD designs or MRIs.
National & International Advances
While still in its early stages in America, 3D bioprinting is quickly shifting the healthcare implant community toward patient-specific care. As technology develops in this area, medicine is changing from treating general symptoms to treating a specific patient.
Some companies, like Centinel Spine, are ahead of the curve—having received FDA clearance for its 3D printing medical devices a year ago. Late in 2018, Stryker announced its acquisition of K2M (two 3D bioprinting companies looking to enhance their presence in the spinal implant marketplace). While challenges to FDA approval exist (and the cost of adding new material to produce these products is time-intensive and expensive) the prevalence and clinical impact of osteoarthritis, musculoskeletal issues and degenerative conditions have contributed to high levels of interest and motivation in developing novel ways to address these conditions.
Investment is also significant in techniques that use living cells or other biomaterials to generate 3D tissues for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.
Bioprinting Companies to Watch
This company has been a pioneer in 3D product printing and also 3D patient-specific bioprinting. Headquartered in Udine, Italy, the company announced in 2016 that they entered into an Innovation Alliance Agreement with the Hospital for Special Surgery—one of the premier hospital systems for orthopedics and rheumatology in the world.
Located in Hilliard, Ohio, Nanofiber Solutions is currently developing and manufacturing nanofiber scaffolds (using nanotechnology and 3D bioprinting technology) that mimic the body’s extracellular matrix. Ross Kayuha, CEO, has been working on this technology for over six years now in the area of tracheal implants.
“We seed the scaffolds with the patient’s own cells and then plant it in the body,” was the way Ross Kayuha, CEO of Nanofiber Solutions, described the process.
Aspect Biosystems, headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, has a strong company mission of using 3D bioprinting and tissue engineering for, “creating human tissues on demand.” They received a 450,000 CAD funding grant by the National Research Council-Industry Research Assistance Program. Aspect Biosystems has been featured in CNBC, Bloomberg, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and Canadian Business. Recently its CEO, Tamer Mohamed presented a TED Talk, where he spoke on the value of bioprinting, especially how it might affect the human response to certain medications.
3D Bioprinting: A Growing Field
The technology surrounding bioprinting is entering an exciting phase, especially when it comes to applications for medical devices and regenerating cellular growth. It is amazing to witness how surgical implants have grown from bone dowels to patient-specific, 3D bioprintable implants. Parallel advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning will only improve these technologies, making this a very promising area of research and development, with a tremendous amount of both investment and technical advancement anticipated.
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About the Author
Carevoyance contributor Sarah Pike, M.B.A., is a freelance marketing copywriter based in San Diego. She enjoys writing about business, fashion, food, healthcare, leadership, motivation and technology.