Cody Wilson, a 25 year old law student at the University of Texas, has been making big headlines since a documentary about him produced by VICE magazine went viral last week.

April 2, 2013

3 Min Read
If You Can 3-D Print a Gun, Why Not a Medical Device?

Wilson is at the forefront of a new movement in 3-D printing – the printing of guns. His efforts toward using 3-D printing to create gun parts, specifically lower receivers for the AR-15, and freely distributing the designs online via his site, DEFCAD, for all to download and use, has put him in a hot button position in the nation's escalating gun control debate. It all comes down to the question – should consumers be allowed to print gun parts (and someday entire guns) in the privacy of their homes?


DEFCAD distributes 3-D-printable designs for working gun parts. Could someone apply the same ingenuity to medical devices?

Wherever you might fall on the issue it does beg an interesting question for healthcare and the device industry: If someone can figure out how to print working guns and gun parts from home, why couldn't someone else figure out how to print working medical devices or components as well? Moreover what would be to stop this person from distributing their device via Internet using the same sort of open source platform Wilson uses to distribute weapon designs?


Just a cursory search of ThingiVerse – a Web site for sharing and distributing designs for 3-D printing - uncovers, among various items - a knee and joint protractor, a syringe adaptor head, forceps, a hemostat, and a “logically working model of a human hip replacement,” all available to download and print using a commercially available 3-D printer. Some of these devices (like the hip replacement) come with disclaimers.


“Yes, it is entirely possible to create a viable drug delivery device, sensor, or other type of active medical device at home,” says Roger Narayan. Narayan is a professor of Biomedical Engineering at North Carolina State University who writes and speaks about 3-D printing and rapid prototyping technology and its applications in the medical device industry. “I think that there may be issues of patient safety that may come into play. In particular, you would need to do some sort of onsite quality control to make sure that the device works as intended.”


Narayan's comment points to what are, logically, regulatory and safety concerns when it comes to being able to print devices at home. Just as the question for Wilson and DefCAD becomes,who's responsible for a 3-D printed gun, forward looking individuals might ask who is responsible for a 3-D printed device. Should the designers take responsibility? Maybe FDA should oversee the designs themselves in addition to the devices? What liabilty should the manufacturers of the 3-D printers assume? And what about the patients/users themselves? At what point does personal responsibility come into play?


Right now it seems there are as many pitfalls as positives. While there are certainly a lot of questions to answer, well-regulated 3-D device printing could allow for another step in personalized healthcare – letting patients print personalized devices at home at the recommendation of a doctor. “I could see it being useful for making devices for less common medical conditions or devices that match patient anatomy,” Narayan says.


Perhaps someday soon a Cody Wilson for medical devices will emerge. For now, the real Cody Wilson offers that the only certainty is that the Internet changes everything. In his VICE interview he offers: “The real utopia is the idea that we can go back to the 1990s and everything will be perfect forever. All we're saying is no you can' there's the Internet.”



Watch VICE's full documentary “Click-Print-Shoot” below:


   -Chris Wiltz is the Associate Editor of MD+DI  Related Content  Roger Narayan will be speaking on '3-D Printing and Medical Device Development' at BIOMEDevice Boston 

Captured on Video: The Technologies of MD&M West


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