MALAYSIAN medical practitioners are generally upbeat about the prospects that 3D bioprinting has to offer them although the technology has yet to reach our shores.
“We are all very receptive to it,” says Prof Dr Fatimah Ibrahim, head of the centre for innovation in medical engineering at Universiti Malaya. “Everybody wants to do this for the advancement of healthcare and we are all open minded about it.”
“Organ donation is very difficult. It’s very hard to get donors,” says Prof Vicknes Waran, consultant neurosurgeon at the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre.
“So if I can make an organ specific to a particular patient, that would be so much better. It’s a better solution because there’ll be a ready supply.”
At the same time, he notes that nobody else’s health would need to be placed in jeopardy and the entire stigma of organ donation, whether cadaveric or through other means, can be done away with.
“I think this technology gives us a lot of latitude to extend life, to improve the quality of life,” says Dr Kang Yew Beng, associate professor and associate director of e-learning at International Medical University Malaysia.
He is especially optimistic about the improvements that will be reaped by pharmaceutical companies from being able to test new drugs on 3D printed tissues rather than on animals or even humans.
“I welcome that because then drug testing becomes more humane. It’s also another business model that one can go into. There are massive opportunities here,” Dr Kang says.
Help or hindrance?
However, he says the fears that the general public may have towards this technology may eventually hinder researchers from discovering the potential good that it has to offer society.
“Everyone has got their own opinion and fear. The lack of information often drives their perception and bias. I’m not fearing the end product, I’m fearing our ignorance more than anything else,” Dr Kang says.
He also thinks that there’s a lot more that needs to be done before 3D bioprinting can be deemed safe, even for clinical trials.
“Every 3D bioprinting experiment will need to be subjected to a research and ethics committee,” Dr Kang says.
Some of the issues he would like see addressed include how cellular materials would be sourced, how 3D organs and waste materials used in testing would be disposed of, and how the 3D bioprinter would be cleaned after each use.
Not here, not yet
Meanwhile, Dr Edmond Zahedi, associate professor from the department of electronics, electrical and systems engineering, faculty of engineering and built environment at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia is doubtful that research in 3D bioprinting will take place within the country anytime soon.
“The materials required (for 3D bioprinting) are still very expensive and you’ll need to put in some hefty investments not only in laboratory facilities, but also in medical and engineering expertise,” he says.
For him and his team at UKM, they have chosen to focus on the macro aspect of 3D printing instead, which is about rapid prototyping of medical instruments rather than the bio-engineering issues involved in 3D bioprinting, which he terms as the micro scale of the technology.
“I am not aware of anybody performing 3D bioprinting of organs here,” says Datuk Dr NKS Tharmaseelan, president of the Malaysian Medical Association.
His greatest concern about 3D bioprinting lies in the possible ethical issues it would raise.
“These may also be influenced by religious beliefs, customs and traditions. Of course, political controversies may have a bearing on policy makers as well,” he adds.
“What is the policy by the government for 3D bioprinting?” Prof Dr Fatimah asks. “This requires the Minister of Health’s intervention. Once a policy or an Act is there, then it’s easier for everybody to implement it.”