Interview with Dr. Matteo Zanfabro: PlayVet

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Matteo Zanfabro, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, is applying 3D printing to Veterinary  Medicine since 2015 during his experimental thesis “The use of 3D printing in preoperative surgical planning”. After graduation in 2017, he founded a private research project named “3D Veterinary Printing” which focused on veterinary clinical research and application of 3D printing technology, winning the “MSD Community Award” in 2018.  After a period as a Research Fellow at the University of Parma, now he is full-employed in PlayCast (www.playcast.it) as a member of R&D and in charge of the new company branch: PlayVet (www.playvet.it). It is a system for Veterinary Hospital and Clinics to provide 3D printed made-to-measure veterinary medical devices for small animal patients, from orthosis to perioperative supports. PlayVet is going to be available from  September 2021 in few authorized centers in northern Italy. Matteo will be speaking at our upcoming event focusing on animals for 3D printing.

Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing?

Matteo: I first met 3d printing in an online magazine. I remember the online paper I read: it was about a surgeon who decided to 3D print a copy of a patient heart before performing its surgery; the paper reported how this technique provided the surgeon with a very important advantage in performing the surgery reducing time ad risk for the patient.  This advantage, related to a more precise e practical knowledge of the surgical field, was directly linked to the ability of reading and managing CT images and I was already deeply in love with radiology even before, so 3D printing entered quite smoothly in my life, as a student and also later as a professional.

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Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey?

Matteo: Different things pushed me to pursue this journey. First, the possibility to work on a CT scan and export any kind of 3D data in order to produce what I wanted. 3d printing is a powerful instrument in a profession where the market is not able to offer what you need and desire as a professional and where patients differ so deeply in terms of anatomy and medical/surgical needs (instruments, surgical guides, 3D model for anatomy and surgery, etc..). Second, the possibility to write my thesis on this subject: I had to approach human medicine literature (except few case reports, there was no veterinary medicine literature available) and its 3D printed applications but  I had also to explore other fields (architecture, prototyping, concrete industry, bio-tech, etc.). I studied how  3D printing affected the fields where it was already applied and the innovation it had brought. I wanted to be part of this innovation in my professional field. 

I also found out I really like the research process and the satisfaction of doing and performing something new, walking through unconventional or unknown paths: I find it really stimulating to transfer technology and experience from one filed to another. 3D printing allows all these things to empower your skills and enhances the hidden creativeness each of us has. 

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Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey?

Matteo: I followed the work of many professionals working in veterinarian and human medicine , but no one inspired me more than Prof. Volta from Parma University. She always helped me in reaching the best I could, fostering my interest and ambitions for this particular application in the field of radiology and, more generally, medicine. She was also my thesis supervisor, so without her support I really do not know if I would be able to do this. I will always be grateful for being one of her students.

Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work? 

Matteo: I am very curious and I love to do something that has not been done at all or doing it, but not in the way it is commonly performed. I like the idea of offering something different, something new. I like the possibility to perform a sort of lateral thinking. Also, being a veterinary physician lets you appreciate the great variety of natural shapes and solutions and let you work on many and sometimes very different types of anatomies and physiologies. Now, working also in the human field of this application, it is possible for me to see relations between the humans and other species and to perform a multi-species approach in my field of application. This is awesome.

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

Matteo: Orthopedic specialty is very tough and rigid in terms of what you are expected to use in the context of surgery, perioperatively. The main difficulties were related to convincing surgeons to test or even try 3D printing in their surgical planning workflow. In private practice it is very difficult to sell to owners a 3D printed surgical planning, it is something that they usually do not understand or do not evaluate as “necessary”. This generates little interest from surgeons to try this approach. This goes against what I have experienced in my short career. In fact,  3D printed surgical planning is really helpful and impacts positively on the surgeons’ abilities. Once they test it, surgeons usually like it and ask for these 3D printed models for planning complicated surgeries. But the road to everyday employment or an integrated workflow considering 3D printing as a standard procedure for non-standard and non-common surgeries is still long to go. Fortunately, I have worked with veterinary surgeons that were open to innovation and I could successfully apply 3D printed models for surgical planning from orthopedics to maxillofacial surgeries. Were the surgeons not interested in this application,  I would have failed my research purposes easily and soon. 

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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)?

Matteo: The short-term challenge is standardization: personalized/custom medicine should not mean “anything goes”, so we need more in terms of standard requirements both for 3D hardware, software, and people involved in the process.

The middle-term challenge is the hardware cost-reduction, which is still an issue in terms of mass-scale use and employment and the 3D printing process speeds that could be still improved.

The long term is the printing of tissue and organs that could actually be employed on patients. 

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

Matteo:

  • Wolverine powers.
  • Superman Body.
  • Batman Money.

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

Matteo: The key to success is a multidisciplinary approach, don’t think in watertight compartments!

Everyone has something to teach us, listen to people around you and always decide with your brain.

There is no innovation if you don’t know the state of the art.

You must accept paid jobs only, slavery is never an option.

Be humble.

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