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Communication Vital to Advancing 3D Printing in Medicine

Bruce Morey
By Bruce Morey Senior Technical Editor, SME Media

Conferences are an important tool in fostering cross-discipline discussion. Though conferences are hindered by the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for communication between professions remains important. The 3DHeals 2020 Global Summit on June 5 and 6, 2020, is now offered virtually. It is sponsoredby 3Dheals.

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Dr. Hui Jenny Chen, MD is both a practicing neuroradiologist and the founder and CEO of 3DHeals, a unique company dedicated to advancing the practice and use of 3D printing in medicine.

In the lead up to that conference, I had a chance to discuss some of the more pressing issues and opportunities in medical additive manufacturing with Dr. Hui Jenny Chen, MD. She is both a practicing neuroradiologist and the founder and CEO of 3DHeals, a unique company dedicated to advancing the practice and use of 3D printing in medicine. She also currently serves as Adjunct Clinical Faculty in neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center.

This is an edited version of that conversation.

Bruce Morey: Could you give us a quick background of yourself and how you started 3DHeals?

Dr. Jenny Chen: That is a really good question. Though I am the Founder and CEO of 3DHeals, I am still a practicing neuroradiologist. I first encountered 3D printing about five years ago at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), where they showed me models of patients with problems like congenital heart disease or meningiomas. It was a fascinating experience, because, as a radiologist, we interact with digital 2D images and we reconstruct images in our heads to become 3D images. It was quite an experience to see a copy of the patient’s disease transformed into a physical object.

To me, it felt like a new milestone in technology development. I also realized there is so much potential in this technology.

Morey: What got you motivated to create 3DHeals?

Chen: I tried to make these anatomical models myself as a radiologist because [I saw] other radiologists doing it. And it turned out to be not very easy at the time, which now is significantly improved. Back then though, it was pretty hard to try to try to figure out things by yourself. The software and the hardware both weren’t super friendly to a healthcare provider like me, not to mention that they’re expensive. So I decided to organize events, to get people together to learn from each other just how to do anatomical modeling using 3D printing.

But once I organized this in San Francisco, it grew. My perspective about what 3D printing can do also extended, and now I realize that anatomical model is only a small segment of a much larger picture. Conversations across multiple disciplines with people from different backgrounds really is very stimulating. Dentists don’t usually talk to a surgeon, lawyers don’t talk usually talk to a material scientist.

We have many problems implementing 3D printing currently into healthcare , ranging from materials to software to hardware. However, a human is always involved in creativity and how to connect these elements together. So, only having one group of people conversing, or only one group of people from one country conversing is not enough.  

Morey: Can you explain the rather unique organization of 3DHeals? Your webpage describes three missions: connect, educate, and discover.

Chen: 3DHeals is a tiny company. We needed a legal entity because we have business transactions, but the goal of the company is as you say to connect, educate and discover. But the company attracted  many volunteers. So all of our community managers are volunteers who just want to be part of this.  It is very, very simple. It is an umbrella where people can gather.

Morey: Then the goal of the conference, 3DHeals 2020, fits the goals of your organization

Chen: My goal is to break down all of the communication barriers of all of these professionals and all of the countries so that they can come together and showcase what they have learned. I have seen collaborations born from these conversations, people meeting each to found companies, and new ideas that were born.

I want to share that with the world. So I would like to invite people from all disciplines to participate in this conference. We have many different angles to tackle this problem of innovation in healthcare, 3D printing, and bioprinting. We also have industry people, regulatory people, and people in the legal field. Because a lot of issues in medical device or cell therapy, whatever you’re going to use for medical purposes, you really need very careful examination from legal or regulatory perspective.

Morey: If my readers had only time for one panel, what panel do you think a manufacturing audience might find the most interesting?

Chen: Well, I think they are all great. Of course, I am biased! But I think some of the most important panels to a manufacturing audience might be the ones dedicated to legal and regulatory issues.

There are five panels, covering intellectual property, product liability, and FDA concerns. I think this is a really high value return on investment.  I mean, to schedule a time with any of these lawyers individually is going to cost you.

Bioprinting is another important topic, 3D printing cells. That is a huge focus of our conference, how do you transition your mindset from just traditional polymer or metal manufacturing into a biologic manufacturing process. I think that’s going to be the future of 3D printing in health. 

Now is a good time to polish your skills and prepare yourself for the post pandemic acceleration. And I think this conference will set the stage for that.

For more information on 3DHeals 2020, see:

For more on the sponsoring company, see:

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