3-D printed organs and medical products are not confined to the plots of medical dramas like Grey’s Anatomy. Although such shows have ‘normalised’ hi-tech medical innovations, they are very real now. The use of 3-D printing technology and its futuristic potential has taken the global healthcare sector by storm. The potential of 3-D printing in the healthcare sector has now motivated Medtech firms to turn this into an opportunity.
In 2021, a report published by Emergen Research revealed that the global 3-D printing healthcare market is projected to be worth $4,070.8 million by 2027.
Surgical planning has gone through many stages in the evolution of modern medicine and it has moved simultaneously with the growing technology for diagnostic imaging.
From simple radiographs in the early 1900 to the current CT scans and MRI which provide a detailed reconstruction of a patient’s anatomy in combination with advanced imaging processing, radiology has tremendously evolved over the years.
According to industry experts, the market for 3-D printing in the healthcare sector is witnessing high demand due to reduced waste generation during the production of medical devices and implants.
The report also revealed that 3-D printing in healthcare is considered a sustainable production method primarily owing to its ability to reduce waste generation and be energy-efficient significantly.
Organs and other anatomical products created by 3-D printers have been proven to be beneficial tools in offering personalised treatments and precision medicine.
What is 3-D printing?
3-D printing is the construction of a three-dimensional object from a CAD model or a digital 3D model. The printing can be done in a variety of processes in which material is deposited, joined, or solidified under computer control, with the material being added together (such as plastics, liquids, or powder grains being fused), typically layer by layer.
This technology is quickly becoming one of the most popular technologies in the world. At present, it has been used to create everything from prosthetic body parts and surgical implants to customised eyeglasses and airplane parts. Several industry experts told Financial Express.com that the applications of 3D printing are only going to continue to increase in the future.
“3-D printing, also known as 3 D Modelling refers to the process of creating three-dimensional representations of an object providing a level of design depth that rough sketches or 2D designs cannot. From 3 D Modelling in Engineering, From movies to manufacturing, from games to Architecture, this technique is incredibly useful,” Shantanu Thatte, Head – Medical Equipment Planning, HOSMAC told Financial Express.com.
Industry experts have pointed out that the demand for 3D printing is expected to grow in the coming years, as the costs and technological developments for the technology decline.
According to Dr. Ravikumar Mukartihal, Consultant Orthopaedic and Robotic Joint Replacement Surgeon, SPARSH Hospital, over the last few years, 3D printing is one such technology that has seen increasing adoption.
“We have moved from virtual 3D to physical 3D printing. All these years we had images that were virtual but we didn’t have a 3D object that we could hold in our hands to understand the pathology of the bone anatomy. In MRIs and other modes, we can see the problem virtually. But with 3D printing, we can print the exact issue and understand the problem by physically looking at it. For example, if there’s a problem in the hip, we can print the pelvis itself. We can understand how to correct it by looking at it three-dimensionally, visualising it, and seeing the problem,” Dr. Mukartihal told Financial Express.com.
3D printing is an additive process. It’s a sophisticated technology and it is referred to as the third industrial revolution. It has great potential and it can be applied in various aspects of the medical field, he said.
3-D Printing in Healthcare
As per SkyQuest analysis, healthcare to generate a revenue of $5.8 billion by 2030. With rapidly changing market dynamics in the global healthcare market and advancing applications of 3D printing in the healthcare domain, the market is projected to grow at a CAGR of around 20.9% until 2030.
According to Thatte, 3D-printed models in healthcare ranges from accurate replication of anatomy and pathology to assist pre-surgical planning and simulation of complex surgical or interventional procedures.
“With the help of design tools and pixel algorithms, a 2-D print gets advanced into a 3D image wherein a printer is given information of each particular pixel and per single pixel, with an aid of Fourier transforms, a 3-dimensional image is derived. At the same time, it is necessary to have medical equipment enabled for 3-D printing as it cannot be just printed on anything and the medium cannot be ink but a semisolid framework,” Thatte told Financial Express.com.
While the healthcare industry only holds a 20% share of the global 3D printing market, it is clear that this technology is having a profound impact on how medical care is delivered. In particular, 3D printing is being used to create custom prosthetics and implants, as well as to produce models of organs and body parts for surgical planning in several parts of the world. Additionally, 3D-printed pharmaceuticals are beginning to enter the market, offering patients personalised medication dosing based on their specific needs.
In addition to medical devices, 3D printing is also being used to create tissues and organs for medical use. Reportedly these tissues and organs can help to improve the quality of life for patients who have lost their own tissue or organ due to injury or disease.
Over the last few years, the global 3D printing market has been witnessing a significant surge in the demand for cosmetic and plastic surgeries. For instance, in 2021, more than 1.4 million surgical and non-surgical procedures were performed and this number is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 15.8% in the years come. As the number of procedures increases, it offers a lucrative opportunity for the market participants since the demand for customised tissue is getting huge attention.
Currently, the availability of 3D printing technology is an issue and cost is currently a concern too.
3-D Printing in India’s Healthcare Market
According to Dr. Mukartihal, the 3D printing market in India has grown exponentially over the last few years. In 2022, the 3D printing market was at 92.34 Million US Dollars. The forecast says it will grow at a CAGR of 20.33% by 2028.
“Currently, 3D printing centers are very minimal but many healthtech/medtech companies are getting into this segment. If there are more manufacturers, the cost will come down too. If there’s widespread use and demand, then the per capita price also comes down and the treatment becomes cost-effective too,” he told Financial Express.com.
In July 2022, a state of art 3D printing facility is opened in Bengaluru, India. In February 2022, Imaginarium partnered with Ultimaker to introduce a desktop and industrial 3D printer range in the India market.
In 2021, Intech Additive Solutions Pvt. Ltd. (Intech), India’s first Metal 3D printer manufacturer, announced the launch of iFusion LF series’ – a large format range of Metal 3D Printers with a high build rate for cost-effective manufacturing. This marked an expansion of its range of metal 3D printers.
The Andhra Pradesh MedTech Zone (AMTZ), India’s first medical device park, inaugurated its 3D Bioprinting facility to develop artificial organs through 3D Bioprinting under the Bio Harmonised Aids for Rehabilitation and Treatment (BHARAT) programme to boost diagnostics and therapy.
Incredible AM, one of India’s medical 3D printing companies, announced the achievement of a new milestone: the delivery of 600+ 3D-printed Patent Specific Implants (PSIs).
The National Strategy on Additive Manufacturing, which aims to add $2 billion-$3 billion to India’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025, is likely to give a massive boost to the nascent 3D printing ecosystem and make the country a global hub for design, material and manufacturing of 3D printers, especially if the government announces some incentives, said industry experts.
Advantages and Disadvantages of 3-D Printing in Healthcare
According to Dr. Mukartihal, there are various advantages of 3D printing.
“It’s more informative about human anatomy: Doctors can feel the anatomy rather than virtually imagining it…helps with better preoperative planning with complex surgeries It helps visualize the issue better and doctors can get a much more accurate and clear understanding of the problem, especially in the case of complex surgeries. Helps with research and development as well as with training medical professionals,” Dr. Mukartihal told Financial Express.com.
According to Dr. Mukartihal, the only disadvantage is that the cost is a little higher at the moment compared to conventional methods.
“More than the cost, it currently takes a longer time to turn the results around. We have to take a CT scan and then we have to share it with the vendor, and then he has to process it and the manufacturing takes up to 24-48 hours depending on the size and type of the implant. It’s a time consuming process. But it definitely as diagnostic and therapeutic value,” he said.
According to Thatte, the biggest advantage of 3-D modeling is that before an object is commercially finalised, the manufacturer can use it as a prototype which in turn reduces the cost of research up to some extent.
“Nowadays 3 Printer works on a universal language platform and can be connected to an output of any 3D-enabled equipment. A disadvantage of 3-D modeling could be its exorbitant cost, demand-supply gap, and the perception of changing the mindset from 2-D to 3-D,” he added.
According to Thatte, India’s current position in the 3-D segment is in the developing or nascent stage. “Limited design tools and a lack of training modules need improvement,” he said.
What Lies Ahead?
According to Thatte, changing people’s virtual perception of working and changing their mindset to execute a 3-D model leaving behind the 2 D format in oblivion is the biggest challenge in this particular segment.
“…And the only remedial measure to counter-attack the same is to include 3 D printing in the curriculum of the university program wherein the new students would automatically get oriented to work towards 3 D representations of their field of interest,” he said.
Thatte also emphasised that although 3-D printing would not have a direct fiscal impact in making healthcare services and treatment more affordable, it would add an extra benefit to the medical teaching and surgical planning procedures apropos to the accuracy and preciseness to be achieved in treating a human’s vital organ.