Recap of 3D Printing in Medicine Backcasting

The Science and Society Network’s research establishment grant scheme recently allowed for Dr. Luke Heemsbergen to run an innovative workshop to “backcast” the future of 3D printing in medicine. The workshop brought together a diverse group of international experts and practitioners, who would have otherwise not have met, to grapple with how the technologies of 3DP printing integrate in a society that has social, in addition to technical, definitions of risk, property, and progress.

A preliminary recap of the event can be listened to via our podcast that explains how surgery, intellectual property law, and 3D printing will come together to shape the future of care, and features our two keynote speakers, Paul D’Urso, Neurosurgeon; Chairman, Anatomics and Michael Weinberg, Executive Director, Engelberg Center, NYU have in common.

Listen to the podcast here.

3D printing is a unique manufacturing technology in that it ‘additively’ deposits materials to build designs, rather than ‘subtracting’ material. This allows innovative design solutions that are not possible with other manufacturing techniques. Just as important however, is how 3D Printing can shift manufacturing practices to incorporate digital and decentralised sharing in ways that offer patient precise devices at scale in more diverse locations than the centralised industrial hubs that have defined research, development and manufacture since the industrial revolution. 

3D printing becomes as much a communication practice (between practitioners, designers, patients, and regulators) as a manufacturing process. The ramifications of this shift move past the technical, as medical practitioners signal socio-political concerns that are an inextricable part of innovating and governing care (see this just-published article by Luke Heemsbergen and Robbie Fordyce for more). 

The workshop employed a mode of ‘backcasting’ to explore how a a specific future, of decentralised printing might come about. We asked participants to detail the paths back from a future defined through “The widespread decentralisation of design, production and monitoring of 3D printed medical goods by practitioners and their patients to offer precision care to various pathology, up to and including implantable medical devices”.

This statement required considering questions across intellectual property and political economy, safety and regulation, medical expertise and patient-practitioner relationships, as well as questions about what the underlying manufacturing technology would afford.

Keynotes Paul D’Urso, Neurosurgeon; Chairman, Anatomics  and Michael Weinberg, Executive Director, Engelberg Center, NYU framed the day for participants (who included 3D printing manufacturers, ethicists, legal experts, and medical practitioners). The main focus of the day was an in-depth collaboration to sketch the path to a future defined through decentralised 3D printing practices.

While the research outcomes of the day are still being analysed, we offer the podcast here to crystallise the issues at hand through the lenses of neurosurgery and intellectual property; a seeming odd pairing until you consider how the care industry is structured, and how 3D printing might disrupt that structure. Innovation of governance of new forms of precision medicine will continue to require ingenuity that taps multiple perspectives between science and society.