3-D Printing Revolution Reshapes Healthcare


May 16, 2014

3-D printers have not yet become an everyday household appliance.

But one area where Kegan Schouwenburg sees their use growing is in the healthcare field.

Schouwenburg knows of what she speaks. Schouwenburg is CEO and founder of SOLS Systems , which makes a platform to scan a patient’s foot and then produce made-to-order 3-D printed orthotic insoles to help treat foot problems.

The New York-based company recently announced a $6.4 million round of funding led by Lux Capital, giving the company $8.1 million in total funding since it was launched in 2013. Also participating in the Series A round is new investor Founders Fund and others.

Schouwenburg said that custom-built medical devices are historically inaccessible and unaffordable for most consumers. But she said a shift is occurring in the medical device industry to provide specially made orthotics and prosthetics for people at a more accessible price.

“We’re streamlining the process,” said Schouwenburg, who was previously director of industrial engineering at Shapeways, another Lux Capital-backed 3-D printing company. “There is so much [3-D] innovation happening, but no one is saying let’s take this technology and scale it to reach, and help, millions of people. That’s where we come in.”

Already, a majority of hearing aids are made using 3-D printing technology. By some estimates, about 10 million 3-D-printed hearing aids are in use today worldwide.

In addition, other companies are focused on providing medical devices using 3-D printing technology, such as Align Technology, which makes Invisalign orthodontics, and Bespoke Innovations, acquired by 3-D Systems in 2012, which focuses on 3-D-printed prosthetic parts.

MakerBot, the New York-based VC-backed 3-D printing company that was bought by Stratasys for $403 million in mid-2013, may also be dipping its toe into prosthetics. Leon McCarthy, who was born 12 years ago with a birth defect that left him with no fingers on his left hand, was outfitted with a prosthetic hand made on a 3-D printer. When he broke a piece of the device while playing football, MakerBot late last year printed him a new finger to repair it.

At the VentureScape conference for the National Venture Capital Association on May 14 in San Francisco, Amanda Boxtel, executive director of the Bridging Bionics Foundation, said that 3-D printing technology is helping her walk. Boxtel, who was paralyzed in a skiing accident 21 years ago, demonstrated on stage how she can walk using an exoskeleton robotic suit, which was created by 3-D Systems and EksoBionics.

“I’m eager to see how 3-D printing will continue to enable significant improvements to manufacturing in the field of medicine and other industries,” Ken Howery, a partner at SOLS backer Founders Fund, told VCJ, a peHUB affiliate publication . “SOLS is already demonstrating that mass customization of everyday items can be a scalable business, and the team has just scratched the surface in terms of what this technology can do.”

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