Interview: Firoza Kothari, 3D Printing in Indian Healthcare System

Firoza Kothari, Co-Founder & CTO – Anatomiz3D Medtech Pvt. Ltd. – A B.Tech in Biotechnology Engineering, Firoza Kothari started her journey to provide patient-specific medical solutions and one day end the organ donation problem by creating live organs out of patients’ stem cells. With that aspiration, she gave birth to Anatomiz3D. She, along with her team, was the first to execute soft tissue models in India through Paediatric Cardiology, partial amputee prosthetic hand, first kidney tumor case in India, and the model for tongue cancer was the first in the world. Being a Co-founder and CTO of Anatomiz3D, she, along with her team, has successfully added 700 plus case studies. Her multi-disciplinary expertise prevails in converting 2D DICOM CT/MRI/Echo Scans to 3D Printed anatomical replicas, medical devices, and allied products, using various combinations of Hardware and Software, across multiple medical specializations. Anatomiz3D has played a vital role in creating the market for 3D Printing in the Medical industry in India and are pioneers for the same. Firoza will be joining us at the upcoming virtual event Healthcare 3D Printing Ecosystem: India.

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

Firoza: This was in 2015 when we started exploring healthcare as a vertical using 3D Printing and executed our first ever case – in Paediatric Cardiology, which also happened to be the first-ever case in India across the soft tissue segment. 

This 6-month-old infant, Lavesh, was suffering from a complex heart defect and was rejected for surgery pretty much everywhere he went. His parents were wondering if his child will ever be able to lead a normal life, or if would he be able to lead a life at all. With a last ray of hope, they visited another medical team. According to this highly experienced team too, the surgery was very difficult, to a point that if Lavesh was taken to the OT, he might not survive. But they didn’t want to give up and wanted to look out for different approaches. They had seen 3D Printing being used in healthcare at some conferences abroad, and this amazing relentless trio decided to evaluate if 3D printing could provide a solution to this seemingly impossible situation. They reached out to us. I was, just 22 back then, a newbie in the field,  nothing like this was ever done before in India and this would have been our first case ever. We had all the reasons to be terrified but this actually became our motivation to do everything right and we decided to take it up. 

It was a very complex defect but we made the 3D Printed model of the heart after learning how to read CT scans, how to read complex anatomies from distorted data, and representing it in the best possible way on a 3D model and sat down with the medical team to brainstorm on whether surgery would be possible. Turns out, they realized that not only was a surgery possible, but because they had more clarity after studying the model, they were certain that the best possible surgical outcome could be achieved. This not only made us realize the impact this technology can have on lives, but the satisfaction we felt after the case is unmeasurable. 

And that’s how Anatomiz3D was born.

What inspired you to start your journey?

Firoza: In 2015, I had seen a video of a 3D printed kidney being showcased in a Ted Talk presented by Dr. Anthony Atala, Wake Forest University. I understand now that it was more structural than functional, but this was more than enough of a reason for me to walk on this path.  Imagine being able to grow organs in a lab, out of stem cell, that you can differentiate to cells of your choice, make them perform and behave a certain way, enhance its functionality even. As a Biotech Engineer by education, this is like a dream come true. What a Future to hope for!

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

Firoza: I have been fortunate enough to have a lot of support around me throughout my journey, be it my family, my partners and coach, advisors, tech-savvy surgeons and clients, patients, etc. They all have played their role in inspiring me in ways more than one – personal, professional, ideological, and spiritual. I would however like to especially mention my grandfather, who was a clinician and whom I lost when I was very young. Growing up seeing him, I always wanted to be a surgeon, but decided against it when I realized I can’t exactly see a lot of blood (The irony, I know). But he gave me a taste of hospital life and being in Medical 3D Printing allows me to strike a good balance between clinical and technical.

What motivates you the most for your work? 

Firoza:  The fact that our team helps save lives or make surgeries better, on a daily basis, learning novel things every day, that’s what keeps me going. 

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

Firoza: The biggest obstacle, like it is with any relatively new technology, is inducing a change – a change in mentality, process, routine. I guess we all have found a few ways to make this happen (a lot more to be explored) and have found strong partnerships that can help enable that. The solution is simple – Collaboration. You can’t do it all alone, and the faster one realizes that it will be easier to enforce this change as a collective group. 

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)?

Firoza: The one that I find most relevant to me and my business, is one – Materials and two – its compatibility with 3D Printing Technology. There are some specific materials that would be great value additions to the medical 3D Printing community, which are either not available or scarcely available and tied down to a 3D printer that you might not own. Materials need to be more widely available and compatible with varied 3D Printing technologies. This will also allow overcoming any manufacturing limitations across technologies. It’s an ‘ideal world’ scenario but something worth working towards.

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

Firoza: Highly hypothetical answers, but wouldn’t they be so good to have?

  1. Being able to work with every technology in the world
  2. Recession free environment
  3. Ability to Teleport (seriously)

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

Firoza: I think it’s very important for students to deeply introspect not only the career they are choosing but also themselves – what kind of a personality they have. Ask questions such as – do you like deep diving into details or do you like the big picture stuff? Do you like working with a team or do you perform better on your own? Are you comfortable in unpredictable situations or do you prefer an organized scheduled environment? What subjects genuinely interest you so that it doesn’t feel like a burden later? And many more. It is very important to note that no answer is right or wrong. Answering these questions will help students better understand what environment they are more likely to enjoy and succeed in at the same time. 

When I was barely making any money during my early startup days, a lot of people told me to leave this and get a stable job. But I genuinely believed in my heart that Medical 3D printing would see its good days and also I didn’t think I would fit well in corporate culture, not that I had much experience but it was more of a gut feeling. So I stood my ground. In their defense, no advice is bad advice (conditional). If it relates to the situation and you have fact-checked/know it’s not good for you, go with your gut. It will almost never betray you. 

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