Mohamed Elawad: how 3D printing is kick-starting the medical revolution

The co-founder of Medativ, a 3D printing medical solutions startup, tells Vision how the technology is changing the face of healthcare in the UAE 

On Medativ
[Medativ] do work on prosthetics, but also anatomical modelling – we create replicas of patient anatomy. Using medical imaging such as CTEs and MRIs, we convert those into 3D models on a computer. Then, we print out replicas of patient anatomy, of whatever [organ] the surgeon needs to help with the procedure. Those replicas are used to diagnose patients more rapidly: rather than depending on a 2D image on a screen, doctors have a physical replica in their hands, giving them improved medical perception, and helping them understand complex diseases.

On the hidden benefits of 3D printing
Anatomical modelling allows for planning for complex procedures. Doctors have a better understanding of procedures that were previously understood as being too dangerous. We create models that allow doctors to rehearse procedures before operating on the patients. These types of models have been shown to decrease blood loss, patient exposure to radiation – and that’s just the beginning.

Patients love it as much as doctors. They have a better understanding of [their condition], and it makes them more comfortable going into the procedure.

For medical students, it’s also great, it gives them an extra level of understanding when studying anatomy.

On the simplicity of the technology
Doctors don’t need extra training to use the models; they’re a tool to give them more information than they already have. Doctors usually rely on medical imaging – the cross-section of someone’s body – which is hard to understand sometimes, particularly if it is a complex disease.

On one of Medativ’s most celebrated procedures
There was a widely documented [success case] of a patient with a tumour in her kidney, who had come to Dr Yasir Al Saeedi at Dubai Hospital. This patient went to four or five hospitals in the UAE and the world, and the doctors told her that they would have to remove her entire kidney, because there wasn’t space to go in and remove the tumour.  

Medativ's 3D printed kidney from the celebrated Dubai Hospital procedure
Medativ's 3D printed kidney from the celebrated Dubai Hospital procedure
 The medical imaging was difficult to interpret, but Dr Yasir was told that there might be a possibility of saving her kidney by removing the tumour. He requested that [Medativ] 3D print a copy of her kidney, which we did, and the replica showed the kidney, the veins and arteries, and the tumour itself. With this model, Dr Yasir was able to assess how safe it was to remove the tumour, and plan a strategy for removing it. After seeing the model, he was very confident that he could remove it.

He showed [the model] to the patient, and it was the first time that she believed that she actually had a tumour, after seeing so many doctors. It helped her understand her condition. In the operating room, Dr Yasir went directly to the tumour and the kidney, he confirmed its location with an ultrasound, and he took it out cleanly.

On Dubai Future Accelerators 
We applied to Dubai Future Accelerators (DFA) last year. We were paired with Dubai Hospital, and came in to evaluate ways that we could develop a business relationship to 3D printing, to improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs. We were housed with them and their innovation team for this project.

The good thing about DFA is that you get to meet decision-makers and thought leaders from throughout the region, and with [DFA] being an accelerator, you get an unprecedented level of access. Because you are housed in the same office as them for the whole period of 12 weeks, you have meetings every day, doing things that would usually take a few weeks, in a day.

On the future of 3D printing in Dubai
We signed an agreement with the Dubai Health Authority to help implement their 3D printing strategy. As part of that, we will be setting up a 3D printing facility to serve the needs of Dubai and the wider region. It is anatomical modelling that includes prosthetics, bionics, and medical tools.

On the most exciting developments
3D printing in medicine is making a lot of strides. There is a lot of exciting stuff happening every day. 3D printing is improving healthcare by giving people the ability to customise products en masse - everybody has a different shape, weight, and anatomy. People even create 3D printed drugs now, tablets that are the right dosage for specific people.

People are also creating 3D printed organs and skin. Companies like L’Oreal are testing their products on 3D printed skin instead of testing on animals.

Things like printing organs, bone and skin are currently being tested on animals and are working well, but it’s going to be another decade or two before we see them being used on humans. It’s exciting.

On industry challenges
For a company like mine, education is the first challenge – we have to teach people who don’t know or understand how 3D printing can help them. After that, clinical and economic benefits [of the technology] have to be measured so that insurance companies can start covering some of the costs. That’s something that we work hard on, and that’s something the Dubai 3D printing strategy is involved with.

There are also challenges in regulation. The field is evolving faster than regulation is – these issues are not in sync. But once these challenges are taken care of – the sky’s the limit.