Interview: Dr. Alexis Dang, Board Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon at UCSF

Dr. Alexis Dang, MD is a board certified Orthopaedic Surgeon at UCSF.  His clinical and research practice is at the San Francisco VA Health Care System.  He is an Assistant Professor at UCSF, co-founder of Edge Labs in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at UCSF, co-founder and Chief Medical Officer at PrinterPrezz, and staff member at the UCSF Makers Lab.  He was an undergraduate at Stanford University with a major in Biological Sciences and a minor in Economics. He then entered medical school at UCSF and continued as an Orthopaedic Surgery resident at UCSF. He then completed his fellowship in Sports Medicine at the University of Rochester. Dr. Alexis Dang will be a speaker at the #3DHEALS2018 conference on April 20-21st, 2018. 
His current utilization of 3D printing spans from the creation and use of Precision Anatomic Models ™ for Orthopaedic Surgery, planning, education, and training to rapid prototyping as part of his role as faculty in the UCSF/UC Berkeley Masters in Translational Medicine program and in the UCSF Surgical Innovations group.   He believes in bringing the most capable technologies, both hardware and software, from any field into medical applications. He is a big advocate of desktop based 3D printing and his lab maintains multiple 3D printers, with an emphasis on open source solutions, which greatly increasing the accessibility of additive technology and products.   He performs his own image segmentation, mesh cleanup, print preparation, and printing, this has given him an unique perspective into what is needed to complete the additive production chain, but also into the potential of additive technologies.
In collaboration with Dr. Alan Dang, MD, he has a patent pending through UCSF for advanced spinal implants, that can only be manufactured through additive techniques.
His interests include innovations in additive materials, manufacturing processes, and additive design.  He believes that 3D printing for medical applications will take us “Beyond: Make” allowing us to not just manufacture products in a different way, but to manufacture better products that can be made no other way.
Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing? What was that experience like? What were you thinking at that moment?
Alexis: My first exposure to 3D printing was when a Makerbot Replicator 2x showed up at Dr. Alan Dang’s office back in 2014.  I was immediately impressed at the elegant simplicity of the machine, but at the time did not fully appreciate the opportunities that would come from this.
Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey/company/career/research in 3D printing (bio-fabrication/bio-printing)?
Alexis: My journey into 3D printing began with my patients coming to me with clinical challenges.  My first clinical application of 3D printing involved a patient that had been turned away by multiple surgeons and told to accept his shoulder pain.  3D printing helped me to think about the problem and develop solutions outside the operating room, and explain this plan to my colleagues and to the patient.  Since that time I have been on a crusade to bring this technology to all patients who may benefit.
Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing (bio-printing/bio-fabrication)? This can be a mentor, a patient, a celebrity, anyone basically. You can name more than one as well.
Alexis: My 3D printing inspiration came from my brother, Dr. Alan Dang, who showed me that 3D printers were for much more than making plastic trinkets.  As well as from my patients who come to be with diagnostic and therapeutic challenges that are made a little clearer with 3D printing.
Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work?
Alexis: The opportunity to improve clinical care for my patients, as well as for patients of other surgeons who can benefit from 3D models.  My clinical impact can be extended beyond my personal patients, through education, training, and advocacy, facilitate by 3D printing.
Jenny: What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions?
Alexis: One of the biggest obstacles is showing people that there is room for improvement, both in clinical outcomes, clinical efficiency, and cost of care, through 3D printing.  3D printing has changed a lot over the past decade and the applications that may benefit from 3D printing have also changed. The best way to show this is by examples. Providing 3D prints when they are not thought to be “needed.”
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)?
Alexis: The biggest challenges to 3D printing and manufacturing in health care are that there are almost too many options, too many possible solutions, but also too many variables.  This is just due to the infancy of this field as it relates to medical applications as compared to other industrial applications. As we progress in defining the optimized medical applications need, then everything else, materials, processes, manufacturing will come together to provide the ideal solutions to our patients.  My initial research has been in the field of tissue engineering of bone and cartilage, and many promising technologies end up staying in the lab because of the costs associated with pushing through the current regulatory pathways.
Jenny: If you are granted three wishes by a higher being, what would they be?
Alexis: Time, Peace, Health
Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advices you heard should they ignore?
Alexis: Find something that you are passionate about to work on.  It can be part of your job or an outside creative outlet.
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?
Alexis: They said: “If you build it they will come.” We built it.
Jenny: What were/was the best investment you made in 3D printing/bio-printing/bio-fabrication?
Alexis: Makerbot Replicator 2x
Jenny: What were/was the worst investment you made in 3D printing/bio-printing/bio-fabrication?
Alexis: Makerbot Replicator 2x. Those who’ve had to rebuild them, over and over, will understand.
Jenny: What was/is the biggest risk you took in your career?
Alexis: Paving our own path in 3D printing, developing our ground up techniques and protocols that worked best for our clinical practices, instead of trying to fit into available systems.
Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/3d printing?
Alexis: Photography, tinkering, modding stuff.
Jenny: What does the word “3DHEALS” mean to you?  =)
Alexis: As an Orthopaedic Surgeon, therapeutic interventions are what we do; 3DHEALS reflects that, with 3D technology in health care directed towards caring for the patient.