DHA: Embracing the Future of 3D Printing in Healthcare

Dubai’s 3D Printing Strategy, implemented in early 2016 as part of a directive given by Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, introduced a multi-tiered plan to make the United Arab Emirates a global leader in 3D printing. The government aims to make Dubai and the UAE a global hub for 3D printing technology by the year 2030 with 25% of the city’s buildings to be based on 3D printing technology. Visitors can already see this in action with the inauguration of the world’s first 3D-printed office building - the “Office of the Future” - which is near the Emirates Tower on the Sheikh Zayed Road.

Although 3D printing technologies have been around since the mid 1980s, the medical sector is viewed as an early adopter of 3D printing, but also a sector with huge potential for growth, due to the customisation and personalisation capabilities of the technologies and the ability to improve people’s lives as the processes improve and materials are developed that meet medical grade standards.

Earlier this year, at the Arab Health Exhibition & Congress in January, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and the organisers of Arab Health – Informa Life Sciences Exhibition – collaborated to give healthcare professionals in the region a revolutionary insight into the future of 3D medical printing. With the theme ‘Fast Forward 2030’, the 3D Medical Printing Zone at Arab Health featured the latest pioneering technologies in 3D medical printing, along with hands-on workshops and a conference with regional and international speakers.

Commenting on the partnership at the time, Dr Mohammad Al Redha, Director of the Executive Office for Organisational Transformation at the DHA, said, “In line with the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the DHA has prioritised fostering the development of future technologies such as 3D printing in healthcare. The DHA’s partnership with Arab Health's 3D Medical Printing Zone aims to create meaningful discussion and action about the three core pillars of 3D printing: awareness, regulation and implementation.”

Dr Al Redha believes that "3D printing is revolutionising healthcare, from the possibilities of printing medication to radically changing the design behind prosthetics.” He says that whether it's through showing a patient a 3D printed replica of their malignant kidney to convince them to undergo life-saving surgery or giving a child new hope through a prosthetic arm, 3D printing is set to touch the lives of many patients in the UAE.

Also announced during Arab Health Exhibition & Congress in January was that the Dubai Health Authority’s Dental Services department will begin using 3D printed technology to print 3D models of teeth for producing prosthesis.

According to Dr Hamda Mesmar, Director of Dental Services Department at the DHA, said: “Using this technology, a dentist will simply scan the teeth using an intra-oral scanner, which will create a digital impression (image). This image is then sent across to the 3D printing machine through the intranet from different Dental Clinics within DHA, which then replicates the image as a 3D model. The 3D image helps us with accurate planning and precision, especially for complicated dental procedures and surgeries. Patients will greatly benefit from the use of this technology as it helps in better patient outcomes as well as substantially reduces waiting times and cost of care.”

She added that in comparison, the conventional method involves the dentist taking an impression of the mouth using various materials. Then, the impression is poured in stone to produce a model. The conventional method is a longer process. Creating a single model using a conventional method takes approximately, 40 minutes (not including the stone setting time, which will total to 1.5 hours) and the accuracy cannot be compared with that of a 3D model.

Other major advantages of the 3D technology in dentistry as compared to the conventional technologies, include accuracy and a better infection control approach on taking a dental impression. Also, the image can be recalled anytime for “reprinting” if needed and thus minimising resources and time”

Dr Al Redha, who’s main responsibility is to develop the necessary standards for implementing and managing the health information systems in the Emirate of Dubai,
Also added that “3D printing is the future and we want to stretch our imaginations to the maximum extent possible. It’s a very exciting time for the world of 3D printing, scientists are now looking at ways to incorporate bio-ink (stem cells) to print 3D organs. At the DHA, we are keen to be part of the innovation and research process as well as understand ways in which we can bring and regulate the use of this technology in Dubai to benefit our population and medical tourists.”

The DHA, in partnership with Arab Health, has also made another exciting announcement that a unique international collaboration would enable one Dubai resident to receive the region’s first ever fully 3D printed prosthetic leg.

The DHA and Arab Health facilitated the creation and donation of the prosthetic device in conjunction with Prosfit (Bulgaria), Mecuris (Germany), and Mediclinic (UAE). Through the combined efforts of all organisations in achieving a united goal, Dubai resident Belinda Gatland is now the proud owner of a new prosthetic leg, fully printed by 3D technology.

Mediclinic worked with two companies abroad to custom-make the 3D printed foot for Belinda. Doctors believe the technology will help reduce costs of producing prosthetics and the procedure is much simpler.

For Belinda Gatland, a British expat and equine physiotherapy specialist, her life changed dramatically after a horse riding accident at the age of 22. With subsequent necrosis (premature death of tissue or bone cells) leaving her in immense pain, she ultimately had to have her left leg amputated. This meant that she could finally lead a pain-free life.

“After trying to save my leg for 19 years and manage the pain, doctors informed me that I had no choice, my leg had to come off and that the bones have died,” she explained. “If I left it much longer, the necrosis would spread higher and lead to an over-the-knee amputation. It was the hardest decision of my life but the prospect of being able to be more hands-on with my son, who was four-years-old then, to scoop him up in my arms and carry him around and live a pain-free life gave me the courage to go ahead with my decision.”

At the age of 40, Belinda had her left leg amputated and within seven weeks, she resumed her work as an equine sports specialist for a horse that was in dire need.

“You just have to carry on in life and you have to get on with it. Horses have been my passion and I have never spent time apart from them,” Belinda said. “After my fall, I studied to become an equine sports therapist because I could no longer ride. After becoming an amputee, I resumed work full-time within the next three months. In 2012, I went to the London Olympic Games as team physiotherapist for the horses of Team Japan, who train in the UK. I started horse riding again and lead a life to the best of my capacity.”

This Ramadan, Belinda became the first amputee in the region to wear a completely 3D printed prosthetic leg as part of the Dubai Health Authority’s Year of Giving initiative. “I have always campaigned for prosthetics being more accessible ever since I became an amputee. Prosthetics are very expensive and need to be changed regularly especially for children who require them and are of a growing age. Therefore, with this technology, I am hoping that the cost comes down, as the models will be 3D printed using a computer.”

Belinda never gave up her passion for horses all through her trying time. Hers is a story of courage and determination and now thanks to modern technology she can ride through life with a bit more ease.

Commenting on Belinda’s story and the DHA’s role in making it possible for her to receive the region’s first ever 3D printed prosthetic limb, Dr Al Redha said, “Projects like this help us pave the way towards a more integrated and sustainable healthcare system – this is a truly unique collaboration that allows us to see the most modern technology emerge and become a reality. This is a learning curve for everyone engaged and part of the foundation of future 3D printing research and development work in the UAE.”

Informa Life Sciences Exhibitions are also proud to have partnered with the DHA to be part of showcasing the amazing potential of 3D printing technology. “The prosthetic leg was created to inspire innovation and to illustrate what technology can achieve today,” said Pyotr Bakass, who is the sponsorship manager at Informa Life Sciences Exhibitions. “This partnership is the initiation of our commitment to contribute to the DHA’s 3D Printing Strategy.”