Editor’s highlights: Additive Manufacturing Strategies (AMS) 2019

3DMedNet Editor, Georgi Makin, attended the Additive Manufacturing Strategies summit on ‘The Future of 3D Printing in Medicine and Dentistry’ in Boston (MA, USA) from 29–31 January 2019. Find out more about some of the highlights from the event in this report.

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Feb 06, 2019

In chilly Boston (MA, USA), I was delighted to be invited to attend the Additive Manufacturing Strategies summit (AMS; 29–31 January 2019) focused on ‘The Future of 3D Printing in Medicine and Dentistry’ as a media partner.

If you follow 3DMedNet on Twitter, you may have noticed our live coverage of the event as I took over the account for the day, but if not, here are my top five highlights and takeaways from the 3 days of workshops, keynote speeches and panel discussions.

1. The question on everyone’s lips: reimbursement?

Potentially one of the biggest obstacles surrounding 3D printing in the medical space (especially in the United States) is the question of reimbursement. Very few would deny that 3D printing technologies in surgical planning exercises and in the production of models for explaining treatment and procedures are extremely useful and effective methods for improving personalized patient care, but it could be argued that covering the costs of investing in 3D printers, materials, software and training may be a drawback when considering the investment in the first place.

Who covers the cost of producing models on a case-by-case and institutional level? At what point will insurers step in to cover the costs?

Some companies and a few clinicians argue that adopting pre-surgical rehearsal models may save money in the long run, as less time is spent in theatre requiring less anesthetic and some even claim that patients are less likely to return with post-operative complications. With this in mind, it may make sense for more institutions to look into investing in the technology as well as for medical insurers to cover the costs of pre-operative planning.

However, this is an ongoing discussion. It will be interesting following regulatory developments in the medical space and the response of bodies capable of reimbursing clinicians and institutions, and we will, of course, continue to delight in publishing news from success stories and interesting cases aided by 3D printing technology in every capacity. 

2. Regulating 3D printed devices is becoming easier to understand…

…as long as you understand your workflow and which part exactly needs to be regulated!

Conferences and meetings have always been great places for discussions surrounding regulating 3D printed medical devices. As an early talk, it was interesting to hear the perspectives of Kim Torluemke (3D Systems; SC, USA) and Jennifer Prioleau (HP) about how medical devices are classified and at what point in your workflow you need to consider FDA regulatory guidance. 

The discussion included clarification on what constitutes a medical device requiring regulation, whether materials are included in regulatory guidance and at whether free-to-access products and services need to be regulated in the same way. 

The full presentation and guidance from the FDA can be found here: www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/NewsEvents/WorkshopsConferences/ucm587582.htm 

The panel concluded with ‘top tips’ for going through FDA regulatory protocols, which included understanding the 3D printing process used as well as the impact on safety and efficacy of the device, determining your FDA submission strategy and keeping up to date with published guidance, revisions and updates to ensure you fully understand your device’s or product’s regulatory requirements (if any!).

3. 3D printing in medicine could be leading the fourth industrial revolution

The fourth industrial revolution is set to include advanced technologies such as AI, AR, genome editing, robotics and 3D printing as technologies which will bring human life (most importantly, healthcare) into a cyber-physical reality.

Kicking off the first main conference day of AMS 2019, Dr Ali Tinazli, Head of Healthcare and Life Sciences Strategy at HP (CA, USA), discussed how 3D printing is shaping the next industrial revolution in his keynote talk entitled: ‘3D Printing Going Mainstream for Health 4.0’. Tinazli claimed that over 400,000 custom medical devices were printed daily in four areas of healthcare applications, including orthodontics, dental prosthetics, hearing aids and orthopedics.

My key takeaway from this talk, which was subsequently supported by anecdotes and case studies from later speakers, was that the breadth of potential for the use of 3D printing in the healthcare industry was almost limitless. Tinazli described how HP 3D printing technologies had already been used to improve the quality of care in many different medical fields, including in missions to reduce the cost of spectacles, prosthetics and protective helmets for new born children. Later presentations also included citizen science projects such as the e-NBALE community, which operates on an open-source sharing platform to facilitate easy access to prosthetics hands and arms, at reduced costs. 

Generally, these projects appear to be taking healthcare to the patient, personalizing treatment at the point-of-care and making every day assistive devices accessible to those for whom they may previously have been an unrealistic luxury.

4. Bioprinting is the future…

Whilst bioprinting was not featured prominently at this conference, the topic was touched on in a panel discussion towards the end of the second day.

From conversation with attendees representing many different areas of medicine, medical sciences and the medical industry, it was clear that whilst a very juvenile technology, it is certainly one that everyone should be very excited about. Already, scientists are able to print tissues for all sorts of studies and news over Christmas announcing the success of scientists on the ISS in the printing of different animal tissues made headlines across the world. 

Whilst we are a long way away from any real clinical applications of bioprinting, let alone any kind of regulation, recent breakthroughs have encouraged conversation challenging what may have previously been deemed impossible, as well as what treatment strategies for many different life-threatening and critical conditions may look like in the future. 

5. The 3Rs extend beyond research ethics where 3D printing is concerned

Whilst not a critical talking point of the conference, it did strike me that 3D printing offered a fair few solutions to the ethical challenges faced by the science community. As a heart-warming note to end on, I wanted to take a quick look at some of the interesting, green initiatives adopted by young entrepreneurs and teams around the world to improve global health, beyond the focus of human healthcare. 

Many speakers referenced how they or their institutions worked with filaments that could be recycled or had been recycled (particularly for prototypes), but I enjoyed hearing about how other teams were working to turn coffee cups, festival waste and even plastic fished out of oceans into filaments suitable for 3D printing prosthetic limbs.

It struck me that if 3D printing in medicine really was going to be the ‘catalyst’ for the fourth industrial revolution as Tinazli suggested and as others supported, sustainability would, at some point, be key to the technology’s survival in the future.

Overall, I had a wonderful time at AMS 2019 and am looking forward to hearing more about next year’s meeting. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone over lunch or cocktails before the start-up competition, talking through their work or thoughts on the industry. 

If you have any insights you would like to share from AMS 2019 or if you will soon be attending an event and would be interested in contributing towards a conference report, please do not hesitate to contact me via email: g.makin@3dmednet.com

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Georgi Makin

Senior Editor, 3DMedNet, Future Science Group

I am the Senior Editor of 3DMedNet, so please do not hesitate to get in touch should you have any queries or comments. You can also follow me on Twitter for the latest updates: @GeorgiMakin

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