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3D printing finds takers in healthcare

August 11, 2016

CHENNAI: Ramesh Kumar (name changed), aged 41, diagnosed with cancer, was unable to open his mouth post a surgery. Dentists were flummoxed on the way ahead given its complexity. Osteo3D's three-dimensional (3D) printed models of his jaws have now enabled Kumar to eat, smile and lead a normal life. 3D printing or the process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file is finding takers in healthcare as more surgeons seek to solve complex cases with customised solutions.

DF3D, a 3D design startup founded by Deepak Raj has set up Osteo3D to address healthcare needs. Raj has delivered over 140 pieces for cranial, orthopaedic, and maxillofacial surgical procedures. It takes Raj over 2-5 days to complete the process once a requisition comes in.

In healthcare, one of the important applications is surgical planning. Fracktal Technologies'services were used for detecting cancer recently. "We scanned the affected organ after which an image was 3D printed using our printers and software. In the model, the cancer-affected cells were not as solid as the affected areas and the doctors could plan their surgery accordingly," Aniket Jotwani, chief marketing officer, Fracktal Technologies, said.

Another nascent application of 3D printing is tissue engineering, or the growth of tissues to produce an organ. Dr Sonal Asthana, liver transplant surgeon adds that while material printing is used in surgeries, 3D bio printing, that uses hydrogels to create a structure of an organ such as a kidney or liver, within which cells can be cultured, is coming up. "Cells can live in this environment for 6 to 8 weeks, as opposed to 3-4 weeks in the natural environment. Such 3D printed organs can solve the problem of organ shortage in the country," he added.

Material 3D printing has widespread use in making customised dental implants, prosthetic arms or limbs. "3D printing helps in customised orthopaedic requests. Hospitals do not buy 3D printers, but take the help of experts like us to create the structures," said Arun Chandru, co-founder, Pandorum Technologies.

Hospitals initially are reluctant to take to 3D printing, because the procedure is not standardised. "For a cast, the procedures are not too complex; hence hospitals are more ready. But when it comes to having a 3D printed organ, they are cautious," said Chandru. The government funded startup developed a 3D printed liver tissue in December 2015.

Jotwani from Fracktal Technologies adds that hospitals are not actively looking for 3D printing solutions as the indsutry is self sufficient. "One of the main challenges we faced was to get an entry point into the system given that the technology is new and untested," he said.

However, VCs are not drawn to this concept yet. According to 6Wresearch, while the India 3D Printer Market is projected to cross $79 million by 2021, after automotive applications, it is educational and medical applications that are employing 3D printing. Data from Tracxn shows that there are 72 startups in 3D printing space of which a mere five startups have external funding (two are funded by the government). Arpit Agarwal, principal, Blume Ventures, says scalability, depth of skills and an ecosystem to quickly test and launch is lacking in India. However, Raj of DF3D says that the government has taken active interest in 3D printing.

Media Source: Health Economictimes

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