“I met Jenny Chen through a friend when she was organizing the 1st 3DHEALS conference. The network of 3D printing and healthcare professionals she was creating was exactly what I’d been working on within the US Department of Veterans Affairs and I believe strongly that this movement will grow much faster if we all share our knowledge and collaborate more closely. I’ve been in Albuquerque for a few years now and have found a small user community of 3D printing and healthcare professionals, but no one has attempted to bring them all together and I want to see that happen.
Community: Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
3DHEALS members can get in touch with: Ben Salatin here
Jenny: Tell us, what is one quote that represents you?
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness… Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
– Mark Twain
Jenny: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where are you from originally? Where are you located? What are you working on?)
Ben: I grew up in Indonesia before moving to the east coast of the U.S. for college. I have a bachelor of science degree in Mechanical Engineering and an M.S. degree in Rehabilitation Science and Technology from the University of Pittsburgh. I have been working for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a clinical rehabilitation engineer for the last 7 years. In this role, I collaborate with therapists to prescribe and deliver the assistive technology solutions to the veterans. Sometimes these solutions involve custom fabrication which I typically use 3D printing for.
Jenny: What made you decide to become a 3DHEALS community manager?
Ben: I met Jenny Chen through a friend when she was organizing the 1st 3DHEALS conference. The network of 3D printing and healthcare professionals she was creating was exactly what I’d been working on within the US Department of Veterans Affairs and I believe strongly that this movement will grow much faster if we all share our knowledge and collaborate more closely. I’ve been in Albuquerque for a few years now and have found a small user community of 3D printing and healthcare professionals, but no one has attempted to bring them all together and I want to see that happen.
Jenny: What do you think of innovations in healthcare 3D printing or bioprinting? What do you hope to see in the next five years? 10 years?
Ben: The ongoing innovations in healthcare 3D printing are amazing. I appreciate that in the US the FDA has chosen to approach this topic with cautious optimism recognizing the immense opportunities for cost-effective personalized healthcare that 3D printing brings to the table. I am even more excited to be a founding organizer of the VA’s national 3D printing network. As the largest healthcare network in the US and one not beholden to insurance reimbursement due to our federal funding, we have the opportunity to become the largest user of medical 3D printing in the US.
In the next 5 years I hope to see that anatomy models for presurgical planning are the norm, prosthetists are regularly 3D printing prosthetic sockets and rehabilitation therapists are creating custom assistive devices with 3D printing. This also implies that healthcare professional schools are teaching their students about 3D design/printing and US insurance companies have begun to reimburse for 3D design/printing.
Jenny: What have you made/designed?
Ben: I started 3D printing a decade ago in graduate school. I was fortunate to be introduced to 3D printing via commercial SLA and SLS machines before the revolution of consumer printers. I have come full circle now to own 2 of my own open-source FDM consumer printers. In 2012 I started designing & printing end use adaptive devices for Veterans at the VA hospital where I worked. The vast majority of my solutions have related to mounting adaptive devices onto wheelchairs and bedsides. I have also begun working with hand therapists to explore 3D printed upper extremity orthotics.
Jenny: Most of our community managers are entrepreneurial and adventurous, what risks/adventures have you taken that you’d like to share with us? Any hopes or regrets?
Ben: I have voluntarily taken the risk of becoming a national advocate, community organizer and mentor within the VA for healthcare 3D printing without any assurance that it will turn into the full-time job that I hope it will. I am doing my best to make sure that happens but this is the government after all and things don’t happen quickly.
Jenny: Who would you like to find and to include in the 3DHEALS community you are building?
Ben: In the healthcare 3D printing community I’ve met so far, I’ve met very few occupational therapists. It’s been mostly radiologists, doctors, and engineers. With the custom fabrication of assistive technology that occupational therapists already do there is a huge potential for them to change the face of their profession by adding 3D printing as a fabrication tool. I will specifically be reaching out to the local practicing therapists and therapy professors to join the 3DHEALS community.
Jenny: What would you like to accomplish with this new 3DHEALS community in the future?
Ben: I hope to create New Mexico’s best resource for healthcare 3D printing, related networking, and learning. I believe this 3DHEALS community will foster new collaborations among people from the federal gov, state university, local businesses, and non-profits.
Jenny: What do you think about the innovation environment (for health tech or for general technology) in your city? What can be done to improve it?
Ben: The innovation environment in Albuquerque is continually getting better. With a long history of government research at Sandia National Laboratory and the US Air Force Research Laboratory, Albuquerque had attracted highly educated people from all over the US. Recently the InnovateABQ hub opened which is a collaboration between the University of New Mexico, Central New Mexico Community College and the US Air Force Research Laboratory. The hub includes a fully equipped maker space and low-cost office space for startups along with classroom and meeting space for students.
Jenny: What are you most proud of about your city?
Ben: It is very friendly and unassuming. Locals are used to being ignored by the rest of the US and so are not pretentious and very willing to collaborate. I am proud of the local diversity of cultures which brings together Native American, Spanish, Central American, African American and Anglo in an enriching mix that I’ve never seen before in the US.
Jenny: What are you most proud of about the innovation community in your city?
Ben: In the almost 3 years I’ve lived here I’ve seen the innovation community grow and have gotten to know the groups doing amazing things locally. It’s a place to dream big and shoot for the stars. The low cost of living and the large community of technologists make it easier to try things here than more expensive cities. The city government has shown a lot of support for the local Albuquerque innovation economy which is encouraging.
Jenny: What do you think are the top priorities in healthcare innovations for your city/community?
Ben: Rural healthcare. New Mexico is a very rural state with an average population per square km of 6.6 people. It is the 45th state in the US by density and household income. This presents problems for the quality of care that can be solved by technology like telehealth, remote data gathering, and remote 3D scanning & 3D printing. Models developed in New Mexico can be leveraged in other rural states or rural countries abroad.
Jenny: What do you do for fun?
Ben: New Mexico is a state rich in culture with a diverse mix of Native American, Mexican, Spanish and Anglo history. This is reflected in festivals, art, food, and music which I enjoy. We love red and green chile which is appropriate for all meals. The landscape is diverse providing lots of options for hiking, biking, and skiing. I have enjoyed learning about the tech history of New Mexico which started with the arrival of the railroad in 1880, progressed in the 1900s to the Manhattan Project which created world-leading research facilities Los Alamo National Labs & Sandia National Labs, bioscience research at University of New Mexico & startups developed around Albuquerque & Santa Fe, green energy, the film industry, and Albuquerque’s brand new InnovateABQ education & entrepreneurship cluster. I also enjoy traveling around the US and internationally. I’m always on the lookout for job opportunities in Asia as that’s where I feel most at home.