3D Printing: A Transformative Technology in the Healthcare Space
By Udayabhanu Jammalamadaka, Staff Scientist, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
Udayabhanu Jammalamadaka, Staff Scientist, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
Please elaborate on the challenges that the healthcare care delivery system is facing today.
Every person is unique as the physical, anatomical, and physiological aspects of every individual are different. Until now we were using a “one size fits for all” treatment approach which brings in a lot of complications. To address this concern, the concept of personalized medicine promises be a better approach to treat all kinds of ailments effectively. But the major challenge here is that it is difficult to synthesize a unique dosage form for a patient to treat a particular disease. Before 3D printing came in everything was mass produced and changing the quantity, and the dosage in small batches was probably expensive and did not prove to be an ideal model. But with 3D printing, we can create small batches of dosage forms or different pills which can be specific to a particular group of patients based on their BMI/age/disease conditions etc.
What are the current market trends you see shaping the Healthcare space?
Biomedical innovations, personalized medicine and machine learning are going to shape new ways in healthcare space. Biomedical innovation such as nanosensors, microfluidic devices have enabled faster and accurate diagnosis methods. Personalized medicine focuses on value based and outcome based treatment methods by tailoring treatment strategies to patient needs. 3D printing is an important tool that enables personalized medicine. Machine learning is enabling improvements in areas diagnosis, treatment and patient information management by analyzing contemporary methods.
"Besides being one of the most transformative technologies in the healthcare industry, 3D printing has also proven to be cost-effective"
What is the role of 3D printing in transforming the Healthcare industry?
Currently, 3D printing is being used not only for drug delivery but also for performing surgery which is one of the major applications of the tech. Having a 3D model prior operating will assist surgeons to understand the minute details that he may otherwise fail to notice. There is also progress on how the billing is done for these surgical models, right now it is in the category three, but I think insurance companies would step up and start filling those as well which would improve the patient outcome and hasten better treatment of the patients.
3D printing is used in almost every field including healthcare, mechanical engineering, aeronautical engineering, and recently, even food industries are adopting 3D printing to create some new food items. Bio-printing is another application which is all set to diversify into a vast industry that aims to create substitutive tissues for people suffering from degenerative diseases. Through this method, instead of waiting for donors, patients own cells can be cultured to developed into functional tissues.
Soon, 3D printing technology is going to revolutionize the healthcare in four segments. 3D printed models for the surgical planning, drug delivery, regenerative medicine and prosthetics. The FDA approval will transform how 3D printing is perceived in the field of pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical drug delivery system will be more personalized. There has also been a tremendous improvement in creating different types of tissues not just structurally but also functionally, making them all the more viable. In a decade or two I would hope there would at least be a increasing number of surgeries wherein the cells are taken from the patient, and the tissue is developed in the lab and then implanted back into the patient.
Fabrication of prosthetics for kids is challenging due to their rapid growth and huge expenses in replacing them. Using 3D printing, affordable prosthetics can be manufactured and replaced with new prosthetics to match rapid growth of young population.
Besides being one of the most transformative technologies in the healthcare industry, 3D printing has also proven to be cost-effective. For instance, the cost to create a surgical 3D model may sound like an extra cost, but the 3D model would prepare the surgeon before the surgery and decrease the time the surgeon would spending the operating room. Eventually reducing the surgery time and hospital costs. In addition to reducing hospital expenses for patients, it also offers them quick less pain and quick recovery.
How do you see the evolution a few years from now with regards to disruptions and transformations within the Healthcare space?
The healthcare industry is trying to improve patient outcomes in the new world of value-based care. There will be an increase in life expectancy and the standard of living of average humans. I believe there is always scope for research and improvement and there will be some tremendous improvements in the way how the diagnosis of the illness is made and the way it is addressed. One such transformation is going to be in how patient and physician interacts. Traditional consultation is time and resource consuming often leading to extensive wait times, with advancements in technology and access to internet, virtual interactions are going to grow exponentially. This virtual consultation will have farther reaches and faster response, giving patients better outcomes. Artificial intelligence is evolving faster and is being adopted in various spaces within healthcare. This powerful tool is going to disrupt current methods and transform healthcare to a new improved level, like a new tool in physician’s kit. 3D printing is another transformative technology that will gain more use in planning surgeries, developing drug delivery methods, regenerative medicine and prosthetics.
What is your advice for budding technologists in the Healthcare space?
Being multidisciplinary is the key. When I meet various research clinicians, they tend to have a problem with one of the procedures which they are currently practicing and are always thinking on how to improve it. This thirst boils down to finding the right tools to address that problem. If you’re willing to collaborate across different disciplines, then we can explore some of the best options to find a better solution. For instance, I was part of a research conducted by one orthopedic surgeon. Here we had trouble on how to create a new method to solve one of the common problems in cartilage degeneration. To address this particular problem, we can use multiple tools such as going for conventional surgery, using genetics to understand how the disease is caused, how it develops, and at the end, it comes down to how different biomaterials can be used to treat that particular illness. Ultimately it is mostly an interdisciplinary approach that would come up with a solution to any problem that we are facing.