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FDA’s 3D Printing Guru Almost Passed on the Job

Ilene Wolff
By Ilene Wolff Contributing Editor, SME Media

Matthew Di Prima, Food and Drug Administration point person for 3D printing of medical devices, initially dismissed the idea of working at FDA.

He received a call in 2009 from the FDA while at the University of Michigan doing postdoctoral work on making conductive thin films using layer-by-layer assembly. His PhD adviser at the Georgia Institute of Technology had recommended him.

Matthew Di Prima hosts a visit from then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in 2017. (Provided by FDA)

“I, in hindsight, did my best to talk my way out of the position,” said Di Prima, who told the caller he didn’t want to work on pharmaceuticals.

Di Prima craved a career in aerospace. He had done summer internships at Raytheon Company while an undergraduate at Rice University. He chose Georgia Tech for a doctorate because the school didn’t require a master’s degree.

The caller persisted, “We’re looking for someone who knows materials and processing with a background in failure analysis and device and material testing,” said Di Prima. He interviewed, and by year’s end was working at the FDA.

In December 2020, he marked 11 years as a materials scientist at FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH). Coincidentally, his lab at FDA headquarters is the former site of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, where the alloy Nitinol was created in 1959; Di Prima was part of a team that wrote FDA’s 2020 technical guidance on medical devices containing Nitinol.

Within the administration, Di Prima is chair of the Additive Manufacturing Working Group and co-chair of the Advanced Manufacturing Technologies Working Group, where members share information about cutting-edge developments like continuous manufacturing for pharmaceuticals, large-scale bioreactors and point-of-care manufacturing technologies. He also is involved with the CDRH’s Experiential Learning Program, helping plan site visits for staff to gain hands-on knowledge of the technology and processes they regulate. Participants have visited Johnson & Johnson and EOS.

Di Prima’s influence extends beyond the FDA in his work advising students at the University of Texas at Dallas, where he’s also a visiting researcher, developing professional standards and advising the executive branch of the federal government. He’s liaison to the White House’s National Science and Technology Council’s Subcommittee on Advanced Manufacturing, where he has input on prioritizing research efforts.

Does he regret forgoing a career in aerospace?

“I think I joined the agency at a good time, because AM was just starting to take off in the medical field,” he said. “As a materials and process person it was a good fit for me.”

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