Medical application of 3D printing could trigger ethical debate: Gartner

The sheer pace of advances in 3D 'bioprinting' (the medical application of 3D printing to produce living tissue and organs) could spark a major ethical debate, according to advisory firm Gartner.

At the same time 3D printing of non-living medical devices including prosthetic limbs, coupled with a burgeoning population and insufficient levels of healthcare in emerging markets, could lead to an explosion in demand for the technology by 2015.

The Times of India quoted Pete Basiliere, research director at Gartner, as saying 3D bioprinting facilities with the ability to print human organs and tissue would advance far faster than general understanding and acceptance of the ramifications of this technology.

In August 2013, China's, Hangzhou Dianzi University had announced it had invented  biomaterial 3D printer Regenovo, which printed a small working kidney that lasted four months. Later in 2013, a two-year-old child in the US was fitted with a windpipe built with her own stem cells.

Basiliere added, these initiatives were well-intentioned, but raised a number of questions that remained unanswered. He asked, what happened when complex 'enhanced' organs involving non-human cells were made. Who would control the ability to produce them and who would ensure the quality of the resulting organs.

According to cbronline.com, Gartner's latest report entitled 3D Printing at the Inflection Point, noted that 3D bio-printed human organs would soon be a reality thanks to major advances in medical technology.

The report said, as the availability of 3D-bio-printed human organs drew closer, it would lead to complex debates involving vast political, moral and financial interests, the report projects.

Basiliere said, the overall success rates of 3D printing cases in emerging regions would escalate for three main reasons: the ease of access and commoditisation of the technology; ROI; and because it simplified supply chain issues with getting medical devices to these regions.

According to the research firm's projections, by 2018, about seven of the world's top 10 multichannel retailers would employ 3D printing technology to produce custom stock orders, even as entirely new business models were developed on the technology.

According to Gartner research vice president Miriam Burt, some retailers were already selling 3D printers to consumers, and as they became more readily available, consumers could use them to 'manufacture' their own custom-designed products.

Burt added, 3D copying services and 3D printing bureaus may be expected to emerge as customers brought 3D models to a retailer or provider and had increasingly high-end parts and designs printed, not just in plastics but in materials including ceramics, stainless steel, and cobalt and titanium alloys.