One of the UAE’s first specialist providers of 3D printed healthcare products, Sinterex recently made headlines when the company collaborated with the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) to use titanium 3D printing to save the jaw of a patient with a tumour. In an interview with Arab Health Magazine, Julian Callanan, Managing Director, Sinterex, shares how 3D printing is all set to revolutionise the healthcare industry.
Tell us about Sinterex. When was it established, how has the journey been?
Sinterex specialises in 3D printed medical products. We are a still a young business, in fact it was just over two years ago in February 2017 that we printed our first product. In this time though we have achieved some notable milestones. We were the first company to commercially deploy a metal 3D printer in the UAE and the first to 3D print teeth in the UAE.
We have seen a good measure of progress on the journey so far, but it has been by no means straight forward or easy. The machinery and equipment that we deal with are highly complex requiring strong technical knowledge. There is a lack of locally available materials or staff to support the type of work we are doing, so we have relied on international imports and invested in training our team. Furthermore, because we are leading with new technologies and concepts, we have had to educate the market about the benefits of our methodologies and then prove the performance over time.
How does the company’s product range help the healthcare industry?
What we do that is different to most other medical device manufacturing businesses is that all our products are completely patient specific, meaning that they are produced solely for one particular patient. This patient specific approach has benefits for the healthcare industry. It gives the patient a better solution for their problem, it supports the clinician with better diagnosis and comprehension of the patient’s situation, and it can save time and complexity during medical procedures.
Our current product range is split into three focus segments; Dental, Craniomaxillofacial, and Anatomical. Under the Dental market segment, we are 3D printing teeth and dentures, correcting misaligned teeth through 3D printed clear aligner treatments, and guiding implants to an accuracy of 0.5mm through 3D printed drill templates. For our Craniomaxillofacial customers, we are providing Virtual Surgical Planning to predict the outcome of a surgery before it starts, 3D printing bone cutting and drilling guides, and titanium 3D printing patient specific implants. For our Anatomical customers we are 3D printing parts of the anatomy such as hearts, kidneys, and vascular structures.
What, according to you, is the impact of innovation in the delivery of healthcare?
With so much at stake, healthcare has and always will be a hotbed for innovation and invention. At the moment, 3D printing is one of the fastest developing emerging trends within healthcare. This is not to say that 3D printing will transform all of the healthcare industry. But in certain healthcare verticals, 3D printing, working hand-in-hand with digital planning software, is starting to really change how we approach and think about complex procedures.
Take knee replacements for example. Patients have traditionally been supplied with new knees ‘off-the-shelf’ with the surgeon choosing the best approximate size and design for the patient’s weight and lifestyle. Now, through the production efficiencies offered by 3D printing, it is possible to have a completely bespoke knee designed and produced, which considers the exact requirements of the patient.
Tell us about your collaboration with the DHA in the recent case where a patient’s jaw was saved using 3D printing.
The patient, a 17-year-old girl in high school, was admitted to hospital after discovering she had a large, fast growing tumour of the right jaw. Unfortunately, due to the growth of the tumour, the jaw had to be partially removed. Our work involved supporting the surgeon, Dr. Khalid Ghandour, with the reconstruction of the jaw.
The workflow started with the patients CT scan, which was segmented and converted into a 3D printed physical model. This model allowed Dr. Ghandour, and his team of surgeons, to visually inspect the patient’s situation and to develop a treatment plan.
After finalising the treatment plan, we 3D printed a Surgical Guide, which was fitted to the patient in the operating theatre to ensure that the surgeons drilling, and cutting are guided with precision. Finally, a patient specific implant was 3D printed in bio-compatible medical grade titanium.
Could you shed light on your future plans.
In the short-term we are focused primarily on the UAE. This is our home market and we need to use the network and momentum we have here to deepen the quality of our current products whilst testing and developing new exciting concepts. That said, we already have an international customer base stretching from Saudi Arabia to South Africa, so we definitely see the potential for international expansion.
For future projects, we are working on some really exciting concepts around ‘Patient Experience’. I can’t say too much at this stage but hopefully in the next few months we will be able to share a new concept, which will change how patients and doctors view and interact with their data.