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3D printers have proved their value to hospitals for limb-saving surgery, Covid-19 supply chain issues, and more

A recent webinar sponsored by Formlabs underscored the value of 3D printing from a clinical perspective and offered insight on how commercial and regulatory players are thinking about this space.

The adoption of 3D printing labs by hospitals and health systems in the past few years has been a growing trend. A recent webinar sponsored by Formlabs and moderated by Gaurav Manchanda, director of medical market development at Formlabs, underscored the technology’s value from clinical, commercial and regulatory perspectives. Northwell Health’s director of 3D Design and Innovation with the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, Todd Goldstein, offered up his personal experience of the value of 3D printing tech during the pandemic from a patient and provider perspective. “Having a 3D printing lab in-house has allowed us to complete surgeries that may not have been possible before without the specific cutting jigs,” Goldstein said. “I don’t know that you can put a price on being able to save a patient’s limb that they would have lost otherwise.” He noted that the lab enabled the health system to directly print novel medical devices in real time, for example producing customized surgical trays and instrument connectors to leverage products from various medical device manufacturers in a single complex surgery.  Goldstein also pointed out that by working with the FDA and collaborating with USF Health and Formlabs, Northwell was able to design, develop, and clinically validate swabs a 3D printed for Covid-19 testing within the space of a few weeks. Over 80 million of these novel NP swabs have been deployed and used globally. Further, when ventilators were in short supply, Goldstein and his team collaborated with the FDA to use its 3D printers to make adapters that converted BiPAP machines into ventilators and safely use them with almost 500 patients.
“For us to be able to be self-reliant to help get through our initial supply chain issues [in 2020] has been extremely valuable to the hospital,” Goldstein said. The pandemic enabled 3D printing to prove its worth on the commercial side as well. Alex Drew, senior mechanical project engineer with Enovis, formerly DJO Surgical, said there was a time during the start of the public health crisis when interaction with surgeons became difficult because of the inability to assemble in person. “Until Covid-19 protocols were sorted out, 3D printing design teams could still have meetings. They could also print out surgical tool trays and ship them to the [appropriate people] to evaluate them.”
Surgeons could discuss the 3D printed surgical tool trays in Zoom or Webex meetings, he said. Ken Gall, a serial entrepreneur and Associate Dean for Entrepreneurship at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering as well as a professor in the university’s department of mechanical engineering and materials science, said the goal is to make medical device components cheaper at the point of care. “The general hope is that we can provide implants at reasonable costs that have better patient outcomes. That’s always the major driver, but the medical device industry has not always operated like that. There has often been increased cost but not necessarily resulting in better outcomes. 3D printing could help [lower costs associated] with inventory management.” A 2018 report on Point of Care use of 3D printing in hospitals shared by FDA Research Scientist Matthew Di Prima in the webinar revealed that although the majority (64%) use it for developing prototypes, 47% use it for surgical planning models, 46% for tooling,  39% for printing surgical instruments and just over one-fifth (22%) use it to produce prosthetics. The webinar also highlighted how the FDA and commercial players are thinking about 3D printing and new developments in this space.