Validating Digital Anatomy: Inside Stratasys’ Strategy
Stratasys is proving out a strategy of application-based 3D printing.
With today’s introduction of the Digital Anatomy J750 3D printer, materials, and GrabCAD software release, the company is focusing on the first of its three key verticals with a healthcare-specific solution.
Also on the application-focused docket will be aerospace and automotive. The healthcare releases are paving the way for this strategic approach, as a conversation with Scott Drikakis, Medical Segment Leader at Stratasys, reveals.
Digital Anatomy Portfolio
The Digital Anatomy introductions represent a well-thought-out first step on this path.
With an updated, focused J750 3D printer and dedicated materials and software, the Digital Anatomy portfolio is off to a strong start.
The focused portfolio has been years in the making, as Drikakis explained. Importantly, it’s based upon in-depth conversations with customers who will be using these solutions, ensuring that “application-specific” actually addresses the application needs and wants of the solution’s user base.
A key use will be for functional anatomical models, creating not just patient-specific lookalikes but — for lack of better word — feelalikes.
These true-to-texture models are intended to faithfully replicate the hardness and softness of human anatomy, whether organ, tissue, blood vessel, or bone. Uses can include existing applications such as surgical planning and patient education, but can also expand to training models for medical professionals to get hands-on with the real feel.
“The reason our customers came to this is that when you look at what’s done today and what’s available, you have cadavers, animals, or synthetic models,” Drikakis told me. “With cadavers, we hear about the growing challenge of availability, as well as cost and disposal. The question always remains whether a cadaver or animal will have the specific pathology required in a given case, as well as increased talk of ethical concerns. Ultimately what we are looking to do is create a 3D printing solution that would replicate the biomechanical properties of the anatomies but provide the flexibility to 3D print the specific pathologies. When we put this in a medical device company or hospital, they can simulate what they would expect to see in native, live tissue.”
Working with these hospitals and medical device companies has taken Stratasys into new territory as well for its 3D printing solutions — third party validation.
As with any medical solution, ensuring validity is critical. Literally critical: we’re talking about products that will have a direct impact on the care of human lives.
Well-trained medical professionals who go into surgery knowing just what to expect and how to approach it can save lives, reduce surgical and recovery times, and simply offer better care and outcome to their patients. Lessening time spent in the O.R. has a cascading effect, as it reduces not only risks of infection, anaesthesia dosing, and time spent to recover, but costs for both patients and hospitals.
Training has always been an important part of anatomical models, and getting away from cadavers, or even high-tech solutions like VR that still don’t quite get that full hands-on experience despite haptic feedback available, ensures that the hands-on training aspects are more lifelike and less plagued by some of the problems Drikakis mentioned.
Replicating real-world conditions is key — and so gaining validation from real-world professionals is proving out this strategic approach.
“What we’ve done that’s unlike anything Stratasys has done in the past is having third parties validate how these materials respond. For TissueMatrix for example, these third parties are validating how these materials compare for tear resistance, cutting resistance, and suture pull force, comparing these models to native tissue,” Drikakis said.
The primary force here, he said, is that they need to study the biomechanical properties of the models the new portfolio creates — “and having information that is published.”
Published third party results add a necessary gravitas to medical findings, ensuring the boost a new solution needs to be taken seriously in a very serious field.
“The only thing we ask of the partners we are working with is that they publish the information and make it public so we can build off this baseline of material about how a 3D printed model compares not to silicone but to actual native tissue,” Drikakis said. “We don’t know what the data will be, but we do know we will build off that.”
Advantages of 3D Printing
In such applications, these 3D printed models may supplant the use of cadavers or animals for device testing or medical training, Drikakis said, looking ahead.
Working together with other advanced technologies, like AR and VR, a fuller understanding of a patient’s pathology and specific anatomy can offer new depth of understanding of the human body.
One aspect that 3D printing often claims as an advantage over existing solutions in many applications comes down to the bottom line — and cost is key here as well, of course.
“We believe we are, conservatively, half the price. But that can be even lower as additional validated applications come to market,” Drikakis said of use of the Digital Anatomy portfolio compared to traditional cadaver or animal use.
Creating on-demand anatomies that perform the same as, or better than, traditionally available options at a lower cost brings together several of 3D printing’s most significant advantages to the healthcare market.
The J750 Digital Anatomy 3D printer and new materials are all priced in line with the existing J-suite portfolio, Drikakis noted. There’s no surprise uptick in cost that wouldn’t be expected for an application-specific new market introduction.
These initial Digital Anatomy introductions are available today.