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View from India: 3D bio printing set to revolutionise healthcare

Image credit: university of minessota

3D bio printing and generative design are set to redefine many processes in the world of healthcare. This decade will see a surge of new products and devices. Homegrown startups are preparing for the upcoming demand with customised offerings.

Bangalore-based Next Big Innovation Labs (NBIL) began in 2016 with the aim of impacting one billion people. Alok Medikepura Anil, co-founder and director, felt the vision could be fulfilled through 3D bio printing.

“As a tool, 3D bio printing helps lower the time-to-market medicines and drugs in the market. It will make a difference to the lives of people. Otherwise, drugs are developed over 10 years. Consequently, life science and R&D companies spend over $2bn for their development,” Anil said.

Efficiency will be seen in the early stages of drug development through 3D bio printing. 3D printing gives industries the ability to manufacture things at small scale and even with high levels of customisation. “In the pharma industry, 7,000 new drugs and 2,500 novel therapies are being developed globally,” he pointed out.

It didn’t take him long to figure out that 3D bio printing has diverse applications. This line of thinking led Anil to create a bio printing skin product through TRIVIMA, NBIL’s proprietary printer. It is a result of the convergence of synthetic biology, material engineering, computational design and 3D bio printing.

TRIVIMA is a customisable 3D bio printer. Its 3D bio printing skin model is an animal-free testing alternative that can be tapped by cosmetic and FMCG companies. It can also be leveraged by various segments of the health chain. This includes hospitals, companies that deal with cells, clinicians as well as labs that research on skin tissue. It can also be used as a skin graft for skin injuries.

Autodesk India’s Fusion 360 was used to create the 3D bio printer. “We have used Fusion 360 to develop India’s first commercial 3D bio printer TRIVIMA. It helps develop 3D printed maxillofacial models which enable surgeons to pre-plan critical surgeries,” explained Anil. Founded by a four-member team, NBIL’s ultimate dream is to create transplantable organs within a lab using 3D printing.

Elsewhere in the medical world, Abhit Kumar had observed that most assistive devices in India are expensive and cumbersome. Even a glance was enough to establish the fact that the cost as well as the weight of devices had to be scaled down. That’s because a large segment of those who rely on assistive devices come from low-income backgrounds and cannot afford to pay a huge price for these products. Their socio-economic background reveals that many of them work in the fields and any heavy device attached to the body will hinder their movement. Moreover, India is a price-sensitive market. Thus, it made sense to Kumar to concentrate on prosthetics, his area of interest. The outcome is affordable products for upper-limb amputees of the low-income bracket.

This vision is being fulfilled through a partnership with Autodesk India. “The prostheses have been designed using Autodesk Fusion 360, which made it easy to prototype it using 3D printing,” said Kumar, who co-founded Social Hardware with Cameron Norris, his business partner whom he met on a social news aggregation platform.

Human engineering combines with generative design to produce battery-operated, low-cost silicone rubber prosthetic hands. The 2017 Bangalore-based startup works with rehabilitation centres to provide pre-product physiotherapy, product fitting and post-product physiotherapy. The fitting and adoption of the prosthetic is assisted through a multidisciplinary team comprising concept designers, engineers, manufacturing professionals, doctors and physiotherapists. A cloud-based model helps coordinate team activities.

The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work here. Before the fitting, sensors are attached to the stump of the user to detect energy levels. This will reveal whether the user can harness the energy required to move the electric-powered prosthetic. The insight will enable the physiotherapist to decide the kind of physiotherapy the user requires.

The initial prototype was automated and caused discomfort, as it weighed 300g. The design was altered to address parameters related to weight, design aesthetics and cost. The 300g product was eventually scaled down to 56g. Much to his surprise, Kumar found that the new version required more time to manufacture and resulted in wastage. Generative design gave focus to the project. It took the offload and with improvisations, Social Hardware arrived at a 96g product with greater aesthetic appeal.

However, the assistive devices space has its share of challenges that mostly relate to its weight. Usually, prosthetic arms tend to weigh between 1.5kg and 2kg, which makes it heavier than the normal human arm. Users find it difficult to use for their normal activities.

Other aspects relate to quality and durability. From the usability point of view, it should come with a do-it-yourself (DIY) option for repair and maintenance. Social Hardware’s product is made from antimicrobial silicone rubber which can be washed with soap water.

These views were expressed at the Fusion 360 Academy Event from Autodesk India Pvt. Ltd.

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