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TIPE Conference 2021: 3D Printing Drives Healthcare Advances Amid Pandemic

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The first-ever TIPE 3D Printing conference featured an inspirational all-female agenda of leaders in the additive manufacturing (AM) industry. The goal was to spur the next generation of women in the space by sharing experiences, latest innovations, and solutions. Hosted by the worldwide organization Women in 3D Printing (Wi3DP), the virtual event fosters a more diverse industry. For two days, attendees had the opportunity to listen to 147 women, who are movers and shakers within the industry, and over 40 presentations in five expert-driven tracks: technology, industry, people, economics, and youth. Notably, many panels, discussions, and case studies focused on the 3D printing revolution in healthcare.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a growing interest in the healthcare industry. If anything, the unprecedented situation has highlighted the need for continued innovation in the healthcare sector. Moreover, 3D printing has stepped up and proven to be a useful ally for medical institutions amid a devastating global health crisis. But tackling the world’s healthcare challenges is not new to the AM industry. Companies like DSM, TRUMPF, and Geisinger Medical have provided the tools to do this for years. The TIPE conference gathered many of the women behind these success stories. Presentations included advances in biomaterials, medical devices, and regenerative medicine.

TIPE 3D Printing conference.

On the prosthetics side, two speakers emphasized the importance of manufacturing personalized breast prostheses to break traditional pre-made devices available to women after mastectomy. Irene Healey, an artist and anaplastologist who founded the company New Attitude Prosthetic Designs, and Shilpi Sen, Co-founder of India-based prostheses startup Prayasta, described the creation of personalized breast prostheses for cancer survivors using 3D printing technology, software, and new materials. The speakers also addressed the disparities between breast and other external body prostheses and the challenges that thousands of women face when choosing between reconstructive surgery and external devices.

After seeing the lack of advanced technology in breast prosthetics, Healey developed a lightweight proprietary, biomimetic material and the manufacturing process for a custom-made product. Healey’s Toronto-based company uses laser-scanning, modeling software, and 3D printing for prototyping to create individualized breast prostheses. For Healey, it’s all about collaboration. During her presentation, she highlighted how this innovation provides a platform for other women to build and create better devices.

“The breast prosthesis is one of the most difficult devices to make because you have the challenge of creating symmetry in a body that is no longer symmetrical and placing the prosthetic right next to the shape and volume you are trying to mimic,” explained Healey. “There is a need for the breast prosthesis to be elevated on par with other prosthetic devices. Every era has a material culture for prosthesis. 3D printing is the material culture of our time.”

Custom breast prostheses: a collaboration between the woman with a mastectomy and medical artist. Image courtesy of New Attitude.

Similarly, Sen talked about the importance of 3D printing for manufacturing personalized breast prostheses and implants, as well as developing a patented medical-grade silicone 3D printer that will create patient-specific breast prostheses. Breast cancer is the most common female cancer worldwide. Along with the United States and China, India accounts for almost one-third of the global breast cancer burden. According to Sen, Indian women face a challenging situation since most breast prostheses or implant solutions are imported, and women have to wait very long to get one.

This unmet medical need requires an urgent solution, so to address the issue, Prayasta will complete the prototype for a specialized 3D printing solution for medical-grade silicone in February 2021. The company hopes to use it for low volume production of silicone products, personalized external prostheses, and implantable silicone devices. For Sen, the focus now is on manufacturing breast prostheses and implants. However, there are ample applications where silicone 3D printing can be used, she said, like facial prosthetics, surgical models, bracket prototyping, and even 3D bioprinting.

Hon’able Union Minister of Science & Technology, observing the #SelfBreastExam Model developed by @prayasta.

Advances in medical 3D printing technology have made tremendous strides, proving to be an excellent ally for surgeons and patients. The responsiveness of the AM industry to some of the significant challenges the healthcare community faces is unquestionable. The technology provides a novel opportunity for in-hospital or outsourced manufacturing to support patient-specific applications. Still, each new 3D hardware technology, material, and manufactured medical product must undergo pertinent technical and regulatory issues that may delay the translation from bench to bedside. How to bridge this gap to move the technology along was a relevant focal point for many speakers.

Transforming patient care through 3D printing solutions was a recurring theme throughout the TIPE conference. For the “3D Printing at Point-of-Care” panel, speakers discussed significant clinical applications of medical 3D printing. Another panel with 3DHeals founder Jenny Chen, Satori CEO Chengxi Wang, and Laura Kastenmayer, Project Manager at TRUMPF Medical, focused on the importance of collaboration and 3D printer customization to elevate clinical and dental experiences. On the materials side, Naomi Murray, Director of Advanced Operations at Stryker, discussed the development of titanium and manufacturing processes to improve patient lives.

3D printed and modeled anatomical structures from 3D Systems. Image courtesy of Stryker.

Murray has been working with medical AM technologies for almost two decades. During her presentation, the materials science expert said 3D printing methods offer unique design freedom to make rapid concepts of porous titanium implants and interbody systems. Developing innovative products and services that improve the lives of patients is at “the heart of what we do,” she said. In a separate presentation, VP of Regenerative Medicine at 3D Systems Katie Weimer agreed with Murray: “When we talk about transforming healthcare, it’s all about the patient.”

An expert in medical device manufacturing, Weimer highlighted the work 3D Systems has done with patients and surgeons and the new printers and software developed. Attendees got to hear impactful stories of life-changing surgeries, like that of first responder Patrick Hardison who received a full face transplant after being gravely injured in the line of duty. This technology translates to many types of reconstruction, but for Weimer working with surgeons is critical, as well as with regulatory agencies, like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has been “mapping out different scenarios based on risk to create some guidance in this space.”

As for the AM industry, Murray said that her eye is on cost: “Looking at the full value chain is what will drive down costs and help industrialize AM.” Weimer hoped more clinical spaces, like hospital operating rooms, will continue to adopt 3D technologies, especially anatomical models and simple patient-specific guides and templates.

TRUMPF Medical innovation in 3D printing. Image courtesy of TRUMPF.

One of the last presentations of the two-day virtual event was by Ruchi Pathak Kaul. The Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon at New Dehli’s All India Institute of Medical Science spoke about the role of 3D technology from a medical perspective. Her remarkable experience in helping a young man with severe facial deformity encouraged her to look for options to help him and countless other patients. In 2015 a colleague suggested she look into 3D printing, and that was it. For Kaul, “the technology was mind blowing.” After 3D printing a model of the complex surgery, it took her 45 minutes to operate, versus the 4 hours usually required for complicated procedures.

From then on, she truly understood how 3D printing for clinical applications could change patient healthcare. Like many of her fellow speakers, one of the big challenges is the cost of 3D printed models or surgical guides. Followed by limited engineering personnel and problems with regulatory requirements. In India, 6.7% of the population lives below the poverty line, so Kaul founded the startup Reconstructive Health Care Solutions and sought funding to help pay for the models.

All of the presentations, networking opportunities, and long-lasting connections at the TIPE conference quickly became a platform for promoting, supporting, and inspiring women using AM technology in healthcare. The shared experiences shed some light on the future of 3D printing and the role women will play in the industry. We can’t wait for TIPE’s second edition in 2022.

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