Inside the 3D printing medical exhibition room, plastic hearts can be seen being printed one after another. On the shelf, there are dental impressions with transparent braces, soft ears and noses printed with biomaterials, dental crowns printed with metal, and surgical guides. You can’t help but wonder what your dentist is going to do to you, and that is exactly what Fablab NDMC wants you to imagine the future of medicine to be.
Fablab NDMC is founded by National Defense Medical Center student Chen Jia-en(陳加恩), for the sole purpose of bringing together 3D printing and medicine. As of now, Fablab NDMC has held several courses and workshops on 3D printing and medicine, for example the analysis on medical printing equipment regulations, and their application on medicine. Chen Jia-en(陳加恩) hopes to recruit more like-minded people to join the cause, and with support from the school and encouragement from professors, he finally got his own “3D Printing Medical Exhibition” in November. During the 10-day exhibition, he tried to promote to doctors and students from the institute, or just about anybody, the future of 3D printing, and why they should be a part of it.
So how you wanna do this?
You won’t fully understand what 3D printing can do just by staring at all these dazzling display models. Dr. Lin Guanxun(林冠勳) from Thoracic Surgery Division, Tri-Service General Hospital, had shown great interest in 3D printing medicine after taking a series of courses on the topic and hence joined the team. He said that among all the 3D printing assisted surgeries at the moment, funnel chest surgery had shown the most immediate effect.
Funnel chest refers to the sunken appearance of the chest, that, if serious enough, might cause pressure on the heart or lung and thus impair their functions, and it always makes the patient self-conscious. Because each patient has a unique shape of deformity, it was impossible to show the patient the exact outcome of the Nuss procedure. Now that 3D printing is here, a 3D model can be created before the surgery, to simulate the before and after scenarios to ensure efficiency and safety. As for what exactly 3D printing does to help the surgery, Lin Guanxun(林冠勳) said that he would be implementing 3D printing on his next funnel chest patient after he had talked to his fellow doctors.
Dr. Chen Minjia(陳敏嘉) from the Periodontics Division said that most instruments a dentist uses are external, which makes them the first items that can be 3D printed. Take dental crowns and dental bridges for example, they are highly accurate, light and fast, and are already being used clinically. 3D printing can also be integrated with clinical digital tomography to help build bone plates used in facial reconstructive surgery. It used to take a lot of time and energy because doctors had to make adjustments through trial and error during a surgery and it was just as risky as it sounds. Finishing the bone nails and plates before a surgery not only helps doctors perform implantations more accurately but also makes the results more presentable for the patients.
In the field of periodontics, patients suffering from edentulism or alveolar bone resorption due to chronic inflammation are usually treated with the traditional periodontal regeneration, which uses bone meal or other materials to fill up a space for the dental implant. However, the outline of the implant is unpredictable, with the help of image prediction and 3D printing, it is possible to customize the area of defect, shorten the duration of the operation and increase its accuracy.
Matchmaking is key
Though this exhibition might make people feel excited for 3D printing, it’s still relatively new to doctors in Taiwan, hence it’s difficult to promote it. The main obstruction is that, Taiwanese doctors are conservative about new technology, unless it’s been tested and published in an academic article. The thing is, it usually takes 3 to 5 years to publish a paper or to verify a procedure, and 3D printing has only been well-known in Taiwan for about 2 years. “If we wait until the papers are published, we might miss the optimal opportunities to get a head start. For a hundred-year-old institute like National Defense Medical Center, we must always be keeping an eye out for what’s going in the outside world.” Said alumnus Huang Xinhong(黃馨弘).
Besides that, regulations are another problem. There are more than enough restrictions for implants alone. As long as it’s against regulations, despite proven more effective, the new technology or equipment would still be prohibited from clinical use. For a member of Fablab NDMC, this is exactly the reason he joined. “Back then, we didn’t know how useful computer was as well.” By introducing 3D printing to more and more people, this kind of mentality shall slowly go away.
After having organized their own courses and medical equipment exhibition, Fablab NDMC wants to do another exhibition that’s more dynamic and interactive, where visitors can take part in the printing process and an interactive seminar using a projector. At the moment, Fablab NDMC only has a very limited venue. They rely heavily on connections inside the institute. “We hope to work with other colleges in the future, to exchange for more space.” Chen Jia-en(陳加恩) said, “it is like the journey to Mordor, only by keeping going can we get Aragorn and Legolas to help us. By then we would have more exhibitions than we can handle.”
Not only that, the Fablab NDMC team wants to introduce their work to their respective colleagues and superiors as well, for potential capital and talent inflow. To clear up doubts from other doctors, the team also plans to put more effort into publishing papers, by working on clinical, printing and writing separately for better efficiency, doing whatever they can to introduce to Taiwan’s doctors the key to the future that is 3D printing.
3D printing is a casual topic among Makers. but not doctors, at least not yet. How much of an impact it’ll have is yet to be determined. If Fablab NDMC can indeed bring more and more people in and really make a difference, Taiwan could become an island of future medicine that would attract pilgrims from all over the world!
- Address: Lab 4201, National Defense Medical Center
- FB: https://www.facebook.com/groups/FABLABNDMC/
- Opening hours: Message for more info
- Feature courses: 3D printing and medicine/ seminar on regulations/ medical-themed workshop