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The Israeli Health Ministry has established a committee to examine the wider implications of the use of 3D printers, in light of their growing use in various medical procedures in hospitals.
The committee will address a wide range of questions and scenarios associated with the introduction of 3D printers into the world of medicine. The panel, headed by Dr. Naftali Meidan from Beilinson Hospital, Petah Tikva, includes physicians, regulators and economists, as well as experts in law and ethics.
3D printers are expected to become a huge part of the medicine and research world for the foreseeable future, with a number of patients who are already living their lives with body parts that have been created with 3D printers, such as jaw bones, noses and various vertebrae.
Photo: A prosthetic nose and ear produced by a 3D printer. Source: Bloomberg
However, according to an article in Haaretz (an Israeli news source), “health systems in Western countries, including Israel, still don’t know how to deal with this new technology, or how to incorporate it into the medical world from a regulatory perspective. The field is currently wide open and any developer or company is allowed to make 3D printers and incorporate them into various medical procedures.”
It is quickly becoming clear that the use of 3-D printers is logical but not without problems.
“There’s a tendency to believe we can solve many problems by using these printers, which is not always true,” said Prof. Samer Srouji from the Galilee Medical Center, Nahariya. “There were also cases that ended up with complications, causing infection and harm to the patient. This area requires regulation, with protocols and clear guidelines in place,” he added.
3D bioprinting also brings with it a number of ethical concerns, with the ultimate aim in many medical circles being the ability to print a variety of organs and living organisms - from cartilage to eyes and livers, including improvements and adaptations. And despite the degree of technology needed to allow this type of printing still being years off, printing of tissues or patches which can be used to help repair faulty organs is the next logical step.
“This is a new and intriguing area. There is a clear understanding of its enormous potential, but we mustn’t be negligent regarding its regulatory and ethical aspects, blinded by our fascination for gadgets and innovation,” said another committee member, Prof. Gil Siegal, director of the Center for Health Law and Bioethics at Ono Academic College, Kiryat Ono, and a professor at the University of Virginia.
The committee is convinced that having the conversation early is important, due to the inevitability of the concept, even if it is still a long way off.
“We can talk about several issues in this regard,” continued Siegal. “For example, replacing or renewing organs will affect the life expectancy of patients. This raises issues of resources and priorities, the retirement age and the planet’s resources. Other issues revolve around the question of what a human being is and what the boundaries are of being human. Is a person who has 90 percent of his organs made by a printer still considered a human being? Does a person with upgraded, printed organs with improved capabilities still qualify as human? These questions will only become more important as the area advances and develops.”
The article goes on to state:
“From a regulatory viewpoint, the status of the printers is still unclear: 3D printing was never defined as a medical technology and its usage includes a wide range of other services. Consequently, officials in the Health Ministry were never in any rush to draw up regulations.
The fact the printers produce customized items rather than predefined products also makes the issue more complicated, meaning the committee will have no shortage of items on its agenda.”
Click here to read more about some of the 3D printer-made surgeries being undertaken in Israel.