Interview: Adam Jakus, Chief Technology of DimensionInx

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Adam Jakus, Ph.D.: is the co-founder and Chief Technology of Dimension Inx LLC, a start-up developing transformative advanced manufacturing materials and processes for medical and non-medical spaces. Adam received his BS and MS degrees in Materials Science and Engineering from Georgia Tech, where he worked on the development and testing of new energetic material systems. In 2010, he began working at Northwestern University with Dimension Inx’s other co-founder, Ramille Shah, Ph.D. While at Northwestern, Adam invented and developed an entirely new, materials-centric approach to 3D printing and advanced manufacturing, now referred to as 3D-Painting, and hundreds of new 3D-printable materials for medical and non-medical purposes. These materials include, but are not limited to the high tissue and organ regenerative Hyperelastic Bone™, 3D-Graphene, Tissue Papers, and Fluffy-X. With approximately 10 years and many thousands of hours of bioprinting and tissue regenerative 3D-Printing experience, Adam leads the field, providing expertise to several not-for-profit bodies looking to establish guidelines, guidance, and certifications related to the emerging fields of tissue and organ fabrication. He is the author of numerous granted and pending patents, high-impact medical and non-medical publications, book chapters, and editorials related to advanced manufacturing and 3D-printing of biomaterials and non-materials. Dr. Jakus will be a speaker of our upcoming “3D Bioprinting for Bone Regeneration”.

Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing? What was that experience like? What were you thinking at that moment?

Adam: My first experience with 3D-printing/additive manufacturing was back in late 2010/2011 as part of Prof. Ramille Shah’s newly established research lab at Northwestern University (no longer at Northwestern), when our group purchased one of the very first Manufacturing Series 3D-BioPlotters from EnvisionTEC. My initial thoughts were “This is really neat, but the materials currently compatible with the system are terrible for biological/clinical applications and just terrible in general” and “these materials that do exist are a real pain to print”. As a Materials Engineer, upon thinking that, I realized there was a major need and an opportunity to focus on developing new 3D-Printable materials of all kinds, not just biomaterials, that were not only highly functional (beyond materials for models or inert gels like alginates, celluloses, gel-Mas, etc.,  thermoplastics like PCLs, PLAs, PEEKs, etc., the endless variety of photopolymers, simple metals and alloys; all of which were still quite common in the field in the 2000s and early 2010s), but also very scalable, easy to implement, and infinitely versatile. That thought, combined with my prior 5-6 years research experience with creating structural thermites and other “energetic” materials, made me realize that were endless opportunities before me with this neat, but ultimately simple (just an X, Y, Z extruder) machine. These efforts resulted in the development of what is now referred to as the 3D-Paint and 3D-Painting technology platform – a exceptionally versatile means of designing and producing a near endless variety of 3D-printable materials (from biomaterials, to electronic materials, ceramics, metals and alloys, and every extraterrestrial materials), including what we now call Hyperelastic Bone™ (First demonstrated in 2011), 3D-Graphene, Fluffy-X™, Tissue Papers, 3D-Metals and 3D-Alloys, and more. As 3D-printing was becoming increasingly popular among industry and enthusiasts, it was clear there was a real need for new materials beyond those previously mentioned. Thus, Ramille Shah and I founded Dimension Inx in 2016 – with the goal of not only transforming medicine but also the broader manufacturing industry. 

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Copper or air

Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey in 3D printing ?

Adam: As mentioned previously, I somewhat stumbled into it initially. Upon seeing a really advanced piece of 3D-Printing machinery with great hardware and software, but very limited materials capabilities, I saw an opportunity/unmet need. As I learned more about the field, I also thought it was crazy that so much effort was being spent on hardware and software related to 3D-Printing but not the actual material that was to be 3D-Printed. Even with the most advanced piece of machinery in the world, if you can only print inert plastics, simple metals, non-clinically relevant gels, what is the point? As the development of the new materials progressed, and as broader awareness and education of 3D-printing increased among researchers and industry, there was increasing demand from researchers, industry, and physicians, our new advanced 3D-printable materials – a demand we could not sustain as being part of a not-for-profit University. Thus, Ramille Shah and I founded Dimension Inx in 2016, where I Have been full time since 2017. 

Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing ? 

Adam: I can’t say that anyone, in particular, inspired me during this time. But the continuous affirmation from researchers, doctors, and industry that they really needed something different from the basic hydrogels, thermoplastics, photopolymers, and metals and alloys kept my energy high throughout the entire process. Also, it is incredibly exciting to hand a new material, in 3D-printed form, to a physician and see their excitement when they learn what it is and what it does – the number of ideas they generate when they realize, for example, that a bioceramic can be flexible and surgically friendly (or a flexible graphene patch can be rapidly produced), is inspiring.  These professionals have been stuck with existing materials for so long, they didn’t realize certain things were not only possible but now available. 

Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work? 

Adam: Two things motivate me the most. First, at my core, I am a materials engineer. In the same way, mechanical or electrical engineering might enjoy tinkering to create new pieces of machinery or electronics, I get substantial joy and fulfillment from tinkering with materials and processes to create new materials with properties that didn’t previously exist. That curiosity and seeing what I can do and how I can push materials motivates me intellectually. Second, at the end of my days of designing new materials, it is extremely motivating to know that they serve a real need and can potentially make the lives of others better or save their lives outright. One needs this real motivation on the medical side of things because it is a slow process to get it to patients, especially when you are talking about revolutionary new technologies.

Jenny: What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions? 

Adam: In medical 3D-Printing in general, I would say there are two major classes of obstacles: hype/undereducation and lack of relevant materials. On the first item, hype/undereducation, I, unfortunately, find myself having to correct misperceptions and poor knowledge primarily generated by social and traditional media. The lack of knowledge of the field, which is still not taught in most universities to science or engineering students (that needs to change), is pervasive among not only the general public but also academics, researchers, industry, investors, physicians, and others, in combination with easy means of sharing stories via social media, creates a very challenging environment and slows down the progression of the field. A broad example is equating surgical model 3D-printing, with advanced biomaterial (regenerative) 3D-printing, and bioprinting (printing lives cells and tissues). These are very different fields, with the first being around for ~30 years and approaching the standard of care in many places, and the latter, being older than most expect (the early 2000s). Because of this lack of awareness, even academic and industry researchers spend significant time and resources “reinventing the wheel” of technologies first established and tried in the early 2000s or even earlier. Additionally, lack of knowledge of the field among government funding organizations led to a big gap of funding in the early 2010s for advanced 3D-printing technologies (but they were being equated to surgical models). These organizations are finally beginning to fund research in this area, but missed a major opportunity in the early 2010s.

On the technical side of things, the major obstacle has always been materials. The common materials we see being 3D-printed in medicine today have been 3D-printed and applied for 20-30 years. They’re not new, nor is 3D-printing or additive manufacturing technology. Materials matter… a 3D-printed plastic heart, regardless of how many colors it has, may be good for surgical planning and education, but it would never be suitable as a substitution for the actual heart. Geometry the same, the difference in materials. The biological heart needs to be comprised of living materials or very highly bioactive materials that transform into living material in the presence of biological signaling. This is very different from plastic or even metal. As the field does become more educated, however, the realization that materials matter is becoming more and more prevalent and more and more materials engineers are joining the field. 

Jenny: What do you think is (are) the biggest challenge(s) in 3D Printing/bio-printing? What do you think the potential solution(s) is (are)?

Adam: See previous response. The biggest challenges, at the moment, are education/cutting through hype and misinformation, funding (connected to education), and lack of available materials. A first step would be to establish a certified university curriculum around Medical 3D-Printing, with two distinct tracts: surgical modeling, guides, permanent implantables, and advanced biomaterials and bioprinting. An additional step would be for those of us who are deep in the field to actively educate and counter inaccurate stories when we seem. Finally, a body of knowledge, certifications, and quality and standards need to be established – which is currently the focus of several major US national organizations. 

Jenny: If you are granted three wishes by a higher being, what would they be?  

Adam:

  1. To have more time in the day.
  2. To be able to know instantly if someone needs medical help and has problems that could be addressed by our materials.

Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advice you heard should they ignore? 

Adam: Most important piece of advice I can give is “diversify your knowledge”. IF you want to go into bioprinting, get experience/education doing something else first (metallurgy, art, mechanical engineering, anything else), then get into the field. What is common, every day, and unremarkable in one field may be unheard of in another. It is important to bring that diversity into the field you want to pursue. If everyone in the same field has the same knowledge and training, how can the field expect to progress? Second, specifically for the world of 3D-printing (medical and non-medical), university education and research is typically farther behind what is known and already being done in the industry – this is quite unique to this field (it is usually the other way around). As such, I encourage students to go to industry shows and events rather than just academic/research events. You’ll be amazed at the differences in this field. 

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3D Painted Copper

Jenny: If you could have a giant billboard to promote a message to millions and even billions of people in our community (i.e. healthcare 3D printing and bio-fabrication), what message would that be? 

Adam: “Biofabrication: Let’s work together!” I say that because there are too many islands of efforts right now, with many groups reinventing the wheel or completely unaware of what is being done by other groups. The technology is there, the motivation is there, the need is there – it’s just a matter of education and communication at this point. 

Jenny: What were/was the best investment you made in 3D printing/bio-printing/bio-fabrication? 

Adam: Throwing my whole life behind new materials development for 3D-printing.

Jenny: What were/was the worst investment you made in 3D printing/bio-printing/bio-fabrication? 

Adam: Can’t think of one, other than possibly spending too much time of my time pursuing this while in academia. Academia is still catching up to where the technology actually is. 

Jenny: What was/is the biggest risk you took in your career?

Adam: Co-Founding and putting all my resources into our current company, Dimension Inx, despite having many other options on the table. It’s been risky, but I am so glad I did it!

Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/3d printing?

Adam: I am actually passionate about 3D-Printing outside of my work/3D-Printing 😊 I pursue art and cooking. I have an art company based on my 3D-printed pieces/technology. Art, like cooking, is not only a low-pressure way to explore new methods and approaches without care, but it is an excellent means of communicating to those outside of the hard technology fields. My art has been exhibited at several major international events and there are two museum events upcoming in May 2019 where some of my pieces (based around advanced biomaterial 3D-printing) will be exhibited. 

Jenny: What is your favorite quote? Why?

Adam: Two Quotes:

  1. “Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine” ― Nikola Tesla

Because I am in a very difficult, emerging, potentially transformative field. There are so many obstacles to overcome and work to complete today, but I really do it for what that future might bring, where medical treatment and technology is transformed. 

  1. “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” ― Albert Einstein

Because, as an engineer, with so many tools, materials, and skillsets at my fingertips, but so limited time, it is important to understand exactly what should be the focus of my efforts. There it a lot of good work and research that looks for a problem, but there are so many problems that aren’t the focused subject of work and research. 

Jenny: What does the word “3DHEALS” mean to you?  =)

Adam: It means more motivation. The field has been around a long time now but is finally beginning to pick up steam because of collective organizations, such as 3DHEALS, making the broader push.

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