3D printing is a rapidly emerging cost-effective technology with significant potential to transform healthcare delivery and clinical activities. This technology can be used in a range of devices such as prostheses, hearing aids, custom-made knee and hip implants, dental implants, and surgical instruments. The global 3D printing for medical sector market was valued at US$ 412.2 million in 2015 and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 11.7% during the forecast period (2016 – 2024).
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Reasonable price of 3D printed medical products leading to increasing popularity
Regional governments of various countries are focusing on burden of expensive medicines on patients through effective price control measures. However, reducing profit margins negatively impact investments in research and development (R&D) phase. 3D printed medical products can effectively address the concerns of governments and the industry. Spritam (Levetiracetam) from Aprecia Pharmaceuticals, is the first 3D printed tablet that received U.S. FDA approval in March 2016. Low cost of production would in turn reduce cost of product and make it more affordable to patients. Researchers are the University of Toronto, Autodesk Research, and CBM Canada used 3D printing to produce low cost customizable prosthetic sockets for patients especially in low-income countries especially Uganda. This would further boost investment in 3D printing by healthcare providers to reduce product cost and increase profit margins.
Similarly, expensive stents, prosthetics, and implants can be made available at a much cheaper rate with improved therapeutic outcomes in the emerging economies such as India, China, Brazil, South Africa, and Russia, which would increase affordability and accessibility of medical products.
A plethora of medical applications
3D printing technology is primarily used to create artificial skin, kidney, liver, pancreas, pills, and orthopedic and dental implants. The current manufacturing capabilities are not adequate to produce artificial organs with precise shape and size of miniature organ parts. Biological models made from 3D printing technology can help in surgical training, planning, and offering personalized medicines, thus enhancing quality of life of the user. While the use of 3D printing is widely implemented in dental applications, other medical segments such as tissues, prosthetics, medicines and heart valves, medical equipment and synthetic skin are also expected to deploy 3D printing technology to a greater extent in the near future.
Different raw materials cater to different 3D printing demands
3D printing technology uses numerous materials such as the metals, ceramics, polymers, and biological cells for printing skin, organs, and medical devices. Metal printing is widely used in prosthetics and implants. Biological cells are widely used in skin and tissue printing. In 2014, L’Oreal S.A. announced partnership with Organovo Holdings, Inc. to 3D-print human skin. Organovo printed the first blood vessel in 2009 and is in the process of developing 3D-printed tissues through strategic partnerships with biopharmaceutical companies. The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM)—a research institute associated with Wake Forest School of Medicine—is involved in printing organs and tissue using gel and patient’s own cells. Ceramic is used in dental implants printing. Also, prosthetics can be printed using ceramics and polymers. Polymers are used in printing dental, orthopedic and cranio-maxillofacial implants, and biological models.
Favorable government policies and government funding to boost the 3D printing market for medical applications
The U.S. government is encouraging innovation in healthcare through funding and establishing manufacturing hubs. For instance, in 2014, the National Institutes of Health established a 3D Print Exchange organization to promote open-source sharing of biomedical 3D print files and tutorials. While the U.S. FDA currently approves only dental, orthopedics, cranio-maxillary and tissue engineering for 3D printing, clearance of the 3D printing in other segments would boost the 3D printing market growth significantly. Similarly, the Japanese government supports manufacture and sales of professional-grade printers for 3D printing (also used for medical applications). In June 2013, the Chinese government announced plans to set up ten 3D printing innovation centers across the country. In May 2016, SHINING 3D—a China-based 3D printing company—established its new headquarters in Zhejiang 3D industrial zone.
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