How to Start a Medical 3D Printing Lab

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Michael Bartellas

MUN MED 3D is a 3D printing biomedical laboratory housed at the Health Science Center at Memorial University. Founded by Michael Bartellas and Stephen Ryan, the organization has done some great work, including 3D printing several hands for children in Zimbabwe. The lab is dedicated to the use of 3D printing in medicine, and in addition to helping children in Africa has been of great use to students studying medicine and how 3D printing is changing the field. Bartellas recently shared his thoughts with Ultimaker about the founding of the lab and how others can go about creating their own facilities dedicated to biomedical 3D printing.

“The idea to create a 3D printing laboratory was conceived after Stephen and myself, who are both medical students, became enthralled with 3D printing and its use in the field of medicine,” Bartellas explains. “We started off exploring the various medical 3D printing applications, and reviewed the scholarly literature in this area. We both bought our own small printers and learned how to print, along with making basic designs through Meshmixer.”

They then applied for and received a grant that allowed them to purchase an Ultimaker 2+ and a LulzBot TAZ 6. They were given a space within the hospital, and MUN MED 3D was begun. Since then, the team has published scholarly work, supported STEM curriculum at the elementary and high school level, been featured in local media, met with members of the provincial government, and much more.

So how does one go about starting a similar organization?

First of all, says Bartellas, you need to have a good working knowledge of 3D printing and its current applications before speaking to anyone else about the subject. You also need to know how a 3D printer works, how to design, and, for medical 3D printing, how to convert CT and MRI scans into 3D rendering. Then you should 3D print some open source medical models.

“When first discussing the usefulness of 3D printed medical models it is extremely helpful to showcase the models, and have your potential collaborator hold the models themselves,” says Bartellas. “Using the models for show and tell will elicit many questions about 3D printing, that you will now be able to answer.”

The next step is to engage with interested parties, such as individuals from an engineering background who develop educational curriculum, or those who teach anatomy. Others could include students who are looking to engage in research or clinicians who are interested in potential patient applications for medical 3D printing. Finding a mentor is a good idea, especially if you’re a student, and then you should start prototyping for free.

“A barrier to project development and engagement can be associated with cost, however, if you approach an interested clinician, student, or other faculty member and seek collaboration without this project cost barrier you will certainly increase your chance of collaboration…Once you have demonstrated your usefulness as a research partner, through high-quality professional work, it will be easier to arrange a cost-sharing strategy for future projects,” says Bartellas.

Make sure you design projects that are achievable: “under promise, and overproduce,” says Bartellas. Always make sure you fulfill your project commitments. Next, discover and claim your niche. For MUN MED 3D, a major focus area is rural medical applications. It’s also important to be available – have an open door policy where people can come to the lab at any time to discuss a project, look at models, or show their work to their colleagues. It’s also important to engage with other faculties across campus, which can lead to more research, funding and exposure.

Scholarship is important in order to gain support. You’ll need to write up manuscripts for publication, present at conferences, and engage with faculty to support simulation and curriculum development. Then there’s everyone’s favorite part: funding. Look for relevant grants and awards, and consider running your lab as a small business. See if university departments are willing to provide financial support in exchange for collaboration or work.

“As the projects grow you will have to build a team that can support the increased workload,” Bartellas continues. “This team can include interested medical and engineering students, staff and faculty, and partners in higher mentorship and administrative roles. Your team must be created to be able to manage the capacity and intellectual needs of your lab.”

Finally, create a vision for your lab’s growth, which will direct the future of your lab. Make sure the growth is focused and sustainable, whether that’s focusing on innovation or providing a valuable service for your stakeholders.

That’s a lot to follow, but it’s a formula that worked well for MUN MED 3D. The organization has had great influence on curriculum at its university, as well as on people around the world. As medical 3D printing continues to grow in complexity and influence, it’s important for campuses to have these kinds of labs where students and faculty can both sharpen their knowledge and acquaint themselves with what’s out there in the industry.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Source/Images: Ultimaker]

 

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