The past few years have seen 3-D printing – a process that involves the creation of a three-dimensional object from a pre-conceived design – evolve from a futuristic idea into a multi-billion dollar business, and few industries have benefitted more from this technology than life sciences and health care. 3-D printing has been used to create models of medical devices, body parts and organs that medical professionals can use in planning treatments. For example, the 3-D printing company Stratasys recently debuted its newest printer specializing in the creation of dental applications, including veneer and denture try-ins.
Perhaps the most palpable application of 3-D printing in the health care industry has been through the creation of surgical models. As detailed in a recent article in CNET Magazine, doctors at Miami Children’s Hospital used 3-D printing to create a scale model of a 4-year-old girl’s heart. The girl, who suffers from a life-threatening heart condition, required a complicated and inventive surgery to fix the issue. The physicians were able to use the printed model to plan the surgery, which was ultimately performed successfully on the 4-year-old patient. Similar models have been printed of a stone-obstructed kidney and an infant’s skull, each of which aided doctors in preparation for a successful surgery.
The surge in 3-D printing does raise speculative questions regarding product liability. Liability questions about this technology are only now being asked, and certainly have not yet been answered. For example, this article in LawyerMade Magazine raises hypotheticals about strict products liability for products created by 3-D printers.
As this new manufacturing technology continues to be adapted and adopted in more and new settings, the novel legal issues will bear watching as they emerge.