The Asian continent is predicted to have the highest growth potential for 3D printing over the next few years. Using 3D printing as a major manufacturing technique has caught on in Asia and a result has attracted a wealth of investment in research and design for the healthcare industry.
Starting in China, the government has invested over $6 million (US) in research and design and medical researchers are working on biomaterials as well as conducting experiments that involve 3-D printed organs and skin.
Last year, the first paediatric 3D medical research facility in Shanghai was opened. The research facility is primarily focused on paediatric 3D modelling and medical imaging, as well as finding new clinical ways to use 3D printing. The beauty of medical 3D printing is that it is beneficial for all patients no matter their age. For example, for small children, doctors can print models of organs to prepare for life-threatening surgeries caused by complex diseases.
From China to now travelling to South Korea. The Asian nation is a leader in 3D printed implants. Last year, doctors in South Korea successfully completed a 3-D printed heel bone implantation in a patient who was suffering from a foot tumour. Thanks to medical 3D printing, the patient received treatment within a fortnight and bypassed having to wait for a matching bone tissue donor.
South Korea is also the first country in the world to approve 3D printed cranial skull implants. See the video below.
3D Printing in Japan
In the land of the rising sun, the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW) have announced that medical insurance will cover the cost of 3D printed models for surgeons to use when preparing for difficult and highly intricate operations.
This would not only allow patients to receive a safe and effective treatment, but also allow them to see and understand the medical procedures. In addition, Japanese medical researchers have been working on some fascinating projects from 3D bio-printed joints, bones, organs, human tissue, and blood vessels.
They continue to push innovative medical methods and are currently planning to use 3D printing to produce synthetic human tissue through living cell aggregates. This artificial tissue can be used for skin grafts on burn patients and can also be used for drug testing. From really making the use of 3D printing in the medical industry, the government in Japan is aiming to bring 3D printers into schools by incorporating them into the curriculum, as well using them for research purposes in universities.
It’s fair to say that 3D printing will only continue to become a vital part of the medical industry as more doctors adopt to use this form of disruptive technology. From all the examples above of how Asian countries use 3D printing in the industry, it is imperative to note that the manufacturing method is only time and cost-efficient if electronics companies and/or hospitals already own the expensive printing equipment. Moreover, they need a skilled team of trained experts to operate the 3D printers.
Facilities will need to be constantly updated, and regulation has to be in place for 3D medical 3D printing to function accordingly. The purpose of looking East, for me, is to see how technologically advanced Asia is getting, and how the West can learn and adopt their methods into practice.