The trachea was rubbery and smelled like an orange. It was a 3D-printed model from Boston Children’s—and just one of the highlights at 3DHeals’ first-ever Boston event. The Aug. 3 event brought healthcare, manufacturing and life sciences professionals together to discuss 3D printing’s potential to shape the future of healthcare.
In the world of health tech, 3D printing may not get as much buzz as robotics or machine learning. But that’s something San Francisco-based company 3DHeals wants to change.
“Our mission is to educate everyone who’s interested in this space and solving problems in healthcare 3D printing to learn together, collaboratively,” said Jenny Chen, founder and CEO of 3DHeals. “We want to talk about what are the potential collaborative opportunities with other emerging tech like artificial intelligence, robotics and VR/AR.”
The night kicked off with half-an-hour of networking in the headquarters of law firm Nixon Peabody, one of the event sponsors. Guests chatted over beer, wine and pizza and took in the view of Summer Street, twenty-five stories below.
Albert Kwon, anesthesiology resident at Brigham and Women’s and pediatric resident at Boston Children’s, came to learn about 3D printing’s potential. “It’s not common [in hospitals], mainly because it takes expertise and resources,” he said. “It’s not going to be used for bread and butter surgeries, but for complex surgeries.”
With complex surgeries, the tech could make a big difference. Kwon recalled a 3D model of a lung surgery he’d seen that showed a tumor and major vessels around it. “The anatomy of the lung changes during surgery, because the lung collapses,” he said. A 3D model, he said, could help surgeons visualize this change in anatomical structure and more effectively prep for a surgery.
Speakers at the event included Sanjay Prabhu from Boston Children’s; Ritu Gill from Brigham and Women’s; Patrick Thayer from biotech company CELLINK and Bryan Sullivan from manufacturer Methods3D.
The consensus seemed to be that 3D printing could help improve physicians’ workflow and patients’ quality of care.
“With pre-surgical planning and discussions between clinicians, the 3D printing model is very helpful,” said Prabhu, clinical director of SIMPeds, the 3D printing program at Boston Children’s. “Frankly, surgeons now believe that prints help. So they ask for prints all the time.”
However, the event made it clear that healthcare 3D printing has some barriers to overcome before it can scale. “Cost is a big issue,” said Prabhu. “If you did not have a cost factor, there would be more people printing, we would get more literature on this and it would show that it helps. So we have a chicken and egg situation. But I think we can work with this.”
Chen said in her opening remarks that cost would eventually go down as the machines became more common. Knowledge, she said, would continue to be a much bigger barrier. Other challenges remain. Manufacturers have to sell enough printers to keep improving product quality. Hospitals have to secure cost reimbursements and the proper materials for each print job.
“Every patient is different. Every tumor is different. Every disease process is different,” said Gill, radiologist at the Brigham. “So you need different kinds of materials.”
In spite of these challenges, 3DHeals continues to promote healthcare 3D printing as an innovation that will pay off in the long run.
Amy Pollard is a candidate for the MA in Communication and International Relations at Boston University. Her interest in health care began with her first trip to Tanzania, where she volunteered at a medical dispensary in a rural village and saw firsthand how access to health care impacts patients. She’s excited to learn about health care technology in Boston. She’s originally from Seattle and holds a B.A. in English from Saint Martin’s University. When she’s not writing, she’s probably drinking coffee, making tacos or watching Parks and Rec. Follow her @amyannexu.
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