Technological Advances in 3-D Printing
Today, three-dimensional (3-D) printing can produce a plastic gun or just about any other item one might need, but according to the U.S. Department and Health and Human Services and as reported in Popular Science magazine, NBC and elsewhere, 3-D printing of human organs may soon be possible. The Week reported on Sept. 19, 2014, that every 10 minutes someone is added to a transplant waiting list—for a kidney, a heart, a lung, or a liver—and on average 18 people die daily while waiting for that transplant.
Now, scientists believe it may be possible to extract a patient’s own cells, turn them into “bio-ink,” and print layers of such ink into a glue-like hydrogel. This would then be printed into the necessary biological organ shape and function needed for transplanting back into the patient. While it sounds messy, the process has already begun for organs such as ears, blood vessels and skin, as well as bones. The 3-D printing market reached $2.2 billion in 2013 and is projected to be a $12-billion industry by 2025. The reproduction of human organs using the substance created from a patient’s own body material is substituted for plastics, with layer-upon-layer being built up into a normal-sized organ, such as an ear or internal organ. However, several insurance claim experts suggest that there may be some claim-related drawbacks to the new method of “printing” objects or body parts, reports William F. Knowles and Kathleen M. Grohman in their Claims Management article, “Thorns of 3D Printing.”
“Certain additive processes have been found to emit ultrafine particles or aerosol emissions, which have proven to be toxic in animal testing,” Knowles and Grohman stated in their report. “Without proper ventilation, these emissions may pose serious health risks. The products themselves also may be hazardous if they malfunction.”
The co-authors compare the claim potentials to that experienced by the property & casualty industry arising from the use of Chinese drywall. They also cite potential patent and copyright infringement claims as a hazard of the new technology.
Nevertheless, as 3-D printing, either in plastics or human tissue, undergoes greater testing and experience, the prospects for its use are phenomenal. Parts for machines or vehicles no longer manufactured may be replicated, allowing continued use of an otherwise obsolete and broken item. As for replication of human body parts, considering the current waiting list for new organs obtained only by donations, these could be produced in such a manner that there would be less rejection of the new organ by the recipient’s immune system as the organ would be made from his or her own body tissue, not that of some other party. Ultimately, science and technology will improve upon these processes.
While there are loss exposures and risk in any process, greater experimentation will reduce that risk to a tolerable level, and it will be misuse of the technology that causes problems. Nevertheless, there will be an impact on insurance issues.