On the Frontiers of Medical Technology, a Low-Profile Donor Giving Big

Uber and Instagram I get. But when my friends in tech start talking about, say, 3D printing a house, as if it's easy to wrap one's head around, that's where they lose me. According to one source, an engineer who went to Baylor recently designed and created a concrete 3D printer that constructed what he claims is the first livable 3D printed structure in the United States. 

3D printing has its benefits. Time, for one. Consider that this engineer's house went up in a mere 24 hours. Of course, there are other benefits, too, like a reduced need for manual human labor. 3D printing also has great potential in the medical field, including in the realm of surgical planning. (It's always good when the white coats feel more prepared and ready for a procedure, right?)

Consider the Jump Trading Simulation & Education Center (Jump), a Peoria, Illinois based medical education, simulation, research, innovation, and conference facility. The center is a collaboration of OSF HealthCare and the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria. OSF HealthCare operates facilities in Michigan and Illinois that provide care to more than $2.5 million people. 

An important figure at Jump is pediatric cardiologist Dr. Matthew Bramlet, who's teamed with the center to work on creating exact replica models of children's hearts. These models aren't just useful in surgical planning, but also as an informative tool for the public. 

On the philanthropic end, in 2012, Chicago area philanthropist William Shepard gave $5 million to establish the Shepard Endowment for Healthcare Engineering at Jump. These funds supported Dr. Bramlet's Advanced Imaging and Modeling (AIM) work and the development of a library of 3D congenital hearts in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 3D Print Exchange.

Now comes news that Shepard is doubling down on his original commitment, and recently gave another $10 million to help Jump continue to expand its work. 

Shepard is at the helm of Shepard International, a brokerage company, and is a co-owner of Jump Trading, an investment firm. Apart from that, though, information on Shepard is hard to come by. We'd bet, though, that there's a personal story behind his health philanthropy, as there often is. It's also worth highlighting that there's often a star researcher, or team of researchers, at the locus of these big gifts. Pioneering research is something that always gets donors excited, and 3D printing is certainly a new frontier. 

Of Shepard's gift, Dr. Bramlet says that "what sets The Shepard Endowment for Healthcare Engineering at Jump apart from other programs across the country are the resources invested in the complex engineering services... Through the latest gift of Mr. Shepard, we are able to take this care outside the walls of OSF HealthCare and touch many lives.”

Below are some other ways Shepard's new funds will be used:

  • When a clinical image (CT or MRI scan) of a child with congenital heart disease is sent to Jump by a referring physician, Jump will print the heart with its state-of-art 3D technique without charge to the family.
  • Jump will share findings and educate clinicians about the potential for 3D medical visualization in addition to educating the general public via demonstrations at museums and STEM education events
  • Jump will continue to support the work of the NIH 3D Print Exchange Heart Library and generate peer review and improvements in technique.