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3D Printing Will Lead to Ethics and Regulation Debate

Gartner says 3D Bioprinters will spark calls to ban the technology for human and nonhuman use by 2016

The technology of 3D “bioprinting” (the medical application of 3D printing to produce living tissue and organs) is advancing so quickly that it will spark a major ethical debate on its use by 2016, according to Gartner Inc.

At the same time, 3D printing of non-living medical devices such as prosthetic limbs, combined with a burgeoning population and insufficient levels of healthcare in emerging markets, is likely to cause an explosion in demand for the technology by 2015.

“3D bioprinting facilities with the ability to print human organs and tissue will advance far faster than general understanding and acceptance of the ramifications of this technology,” said Pete Basiliere, Research Director, Gartner. Already in August 2013, the Hangzhou Dianzi University in China announced it had invented the biomaterial 3D printer Regenovo, which printed a small working kidney that lasted four months. Earlier in 2013, a two-year-old child in the US received a windpipe built with her own stem cells.

Basiliere added, “These initiatives are well-intentioned, but raise a number of questions that remain unanswered. What happens when complex ‘enhanced’ organs involving nonhuman cells are made? Who will control the ability to produce them? Who will ensure the quality of the resulting organs?”

Outside the medical market, 3D printing will also bring about major changes and challenges. Gartner predicts that by 2018, at least seven of the world’s top 10 multichannel retailers will be using 3D printing technology to generate custom stock orders, at the same time as entirely new business models are built on the technology.

The rapid emergence of this technology will also create major challenges in relation to intellectual property (IP) theft. Gartner predicts that by 2018, 3D printing will result in the loss of at least $100 billion per year in IP globally.

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