China Medical University Hospital (CMUH), the pioneer in medical applications of 3D printing in Taiwan, collaborated with National Applied Research Laboratories and Singapore's National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster to create Asia’s first medical 3D printing industry team. It is anticipated that the clinical experience, R&D expertise, and assistive device research achievements can be combined and implemented in the industry for patients’ benefit. CMUH also facilitated technology transfers to the industry and mass produce 3D printed products, including orthognathic surgery, orthodontic braces, and movable bone cement knee implants. The team seeks to enhance the cooperation between the industry, academia, and research sectors in 3D printed medical devices and its clinical applications.
It has been two decades since the introduction of 3D printing technology and the scope of applications have been ever expanding. 3D printing has made significant contributions in architecture, automobile, aerospace technology, and smart healthcare. In the sector of smart healthcare, the 3D Printing Medical Research Center (3D MRC) at CMUH is leading the industry. The 3D MRC is the world's first institute to hold the entire chain from the development of fundamental research to clinical applications. With the integration of medical imaging and regenerative medicine research, the center has developed several technologies that have been applied to the clinical side. The operating model of the 3D MRC is unique when comparing to similar entities in Asian, European, and American countries.
The 3D MRC provides the complete medical 3D printing service from medical image simulation to design analysis and manufacturing of customized medical devices. It also has achieved several extraordinary "firsts", including the first medical 3D printing center established in a hospital; the first international collaborative research center to work with Georgia Institute of Technology; and the first in performance in Taiwan, including nearly 300 surgeries. The 3D MRC conducts research in regenerative medicine and is the leader in Taiwan in the number of papers published and patents obtained in the field of medical 3D printing. With several spinoff companies having been established from related technologies, the 3D MRC collaborates with industry and has attracted the highest investments in the medical 3D printing industry to itself and for technology transfers. This level of achievement has not been attained by other 3D printing research centers in clinical medicine. The Center has also had close interactions with the 3D printing team at Mayo Clinic and was invited to give talks at annual meetings. Having been contracted by the Ministry of Health and Welfare for 3D printing projects, the Center has been influential in the development of the field, making its impact on the industry, government, and academic sides alike.
3D printing applications provide great advantages in the field of medicine. These include allowing multiple simulations to optimize preoperative surgical planning, reducing medical costs, minimizing wounds, shortening recovery time, significantly decreasing surgery duration, and improving the safety of surgery. Customized surgical tools can be made by 3D printing with high accuracy. 3D printed organs can better meet the requirements of the body, e.g. the micropore surface of a 3D-printed bone allows osteocytes to adhere, join, and heal better, providing an improvement over the smooth metal surface implants used in the past. However, "3D printing has wide implications in medical ethics that is under careful evaluation in every country. Korea has even passed a special law for it. These can all serve as a reference for Taiwan," said Dr. Yi-Wen Chen, Deputy Director of 3D MRC, during the interview.
When announcing the new guidance for 3D printing of medical products, the Commissioner of the US FDA, Scott Gottlieb, also declared that "Developing a transparent policy on 3D printing remains an important next step for us. The FDA also plans to review the regulatory issues related to the bioprinting of biological, cellular and tissue-based products in order to determine whether additional guidance is needed beyond the recently released regulatory framework." The rapid advancement of medical technology may be exhilarating, but perhaps we should also give more attention to issues surrounding the ethics and regulatory control to ensure that positive impact of the technology is carried out to full effect.
(Editing by Nicole Yang, Research Center for Biotechnology and Medicine Policy)