Nia Chung, MJLST Symposium Editor
Imagine your six-week old newborn suddenly stops breathing. You rush him to the hospital, where he is diagnosed with tracheobronchomalacia, which means that his windpipe has collapsed. Your doctor tells you that she can provide the conventional treatment of conducting a tracheostomy and putting your newborn on a ventilator which might lead to further breathing problems and possible heart stoppage. She goes on to tell you that she can 3-D print a device that will instantly help your newborn breathe, and she does. This is a true story. Kaiba Gionfriddo, who was treated at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital through a groundbreaking cross-disciplinary effort between the University of Michigan’s Medical and Engineering schools, doctors, faculty, and researchers in 2011, was the first patient ever to experience a surgery of its kind. Kaiba’s story was just the beginning of medical and surgical breakthroughs using 3-D printing.
But what exactly is 3-D printing? 3-D printing, also called additive manufacturing, is the process of making solid three-dimensional objects from a CAD (Computer Aided Design) digital file. Based on this digital file, 3-D modeling software “slices” the three dimensional model “into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers. The sliced file is then uploaded to a 3-D printer, which creates the 3-D object. There are several technologies 3-D printer manufacturers can utilize to generate 3-D objects—some use melting or softening material in a technology called “selective laser sintering” or “fused deposition modeling” and others cure a photo-reactive resin with a UV laser. A small, low-quality object can be printed in less than 10 minutes, while larger, high-quality objects may take up to several hours to print. By and large, 3-D printers are cost-effective, efficient, and can provide insurmountable benefits to the healthcare industry.
Baby Kaiba and his biodegradable splint showed the world how 3-D printing can be used in healthcare. Researchers have taken it further by bioprinting trachea, grown using a patient’s own stem cell cultures. This would essentially be the “first artificial bioprinted organ,” and doctors are hoping for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. What the FDA has approved recently, however, is the first ever 3-D printed drug product. In August 2015, the FDA approved Aprecia Pharmaceutical’s Spritam (levetiracetam). A drug product used orally to treat “partial onset seizures, myoclonic seizures and primary generalized tonic-clonic seizures in adults and children with epilepsy.” Other examples of how 3-D printing is transforming healthcare include 3-D printed blood vessels, heart valves, low-cost prosthetics designed specifically to a patient’s anatomy, and electronic sensors that monitor heart strain, oxygenation, and temperature that can be perfectly attached to a patient’s heart.
Although additive manufacturing is cost effective, waste-reducing, and efficient, it presents legal challenges in areas ranging from intellectual property to product liability. A white paper published by Reed Smith outlines the impact 3-D printing will have on areas including regulatory issues, patent and copyright law, tort liability, and insurance. For example, what is a “product”? Is it the CAD digital file, the 3-D printed product, or both? Who is the manufacturer? Is it CAD or is it the 3-D printer? If I am in need of a replacement hip, and agree to have a 3-D printed hip implanted into my body, if that product is defective, who is liable—the hospital that performed the hip replacement surgery, the 3-D printer manufacturer, or the 3-D imaging software? From an intellectual property law standpoint, 3-D printing can provide easier access to counterfeit products, and can blur the line on what constitutes patent infringement. If a hospital 3-D prints repairs a medical device by 3-D printing a nonpatented replacement component, this would likely be lawful. On the other hand, “replicating replicating a patented device by using a 3D printer to create all of its components may well constitute patent infringement.” Because 3-D printing brings, along with its benefits, many unanswered questions in the law, the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology (MJLST) will be hosting a symposium on these very issues. It will feature experts on intellectual property, regulatory, and tort liability issues surrounding 3-D printing in an all day event. The symposium will consist of several panels and a keynote speech by Candice Ciresi, General Counsel of Stratasys, a leading 3-D printer manufacturer, along with breakfast and lunch. MJLST Volume 17.2, its symposium issue, will publish articles on issues covered at the live symposium.
Today, medical devices, body parts, pharmaceutical drugs, guns, and food can be 3-D printed in a matter of hours to be utilized by private citizens. Please join us at the symposium to hear from some of the nation’s experts on how we must regulate this technology moving forward and what we can expect from 3-D printing in the near future.
Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology presents “A Symposium on Disruptive Manufacturing: The Rapid Emergence of 3-D Printing and Arising Legal Concerns.” The symposium will be held on March 4, 2016 at Walter F. Mondale Hall, The University of Minnesota Law School, 229 19th Ave. South, Room 25, Minneapolis, MN 55455, from 8:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. To attend the symposium or for more information, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the symposium’s website at https://sites.google.com/a/umn.edu/mjlst-symposium-2016-3-d-printing/home. Please visit and RSVP on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1651569518452959/