3D Printing in Impoverished Nations
3D printing is a technology that has existed since the 1980s. Over time, additive technology has increasingly progressed where various medical applications can use it. 3D printing in impoverished nations has several benefits specifically in medicine and medical services relating to the affordability for the general populous of these nations. 3D printing for medical applications is the process of utilizing a digital blueprint or digital model, slicing the model into manageable bits and then reconstructing it with various types of materials, typically plastic. Here are three examples of 3D printing in impoverished nations.

3 Examples of 3D Printing in Impoverished Nations

  1. Custom Surgical Elements: The use of 3D printing has significantly increased in the manufacturing of customized surgical elements, such as splints. Manufacturers can make these devices and components quickly at a relatively low cost, which would greatly reduce the price of sale to the consumer. The reason for the reduced cost of production compared to conventional manufacturing systems is primarily due to the additive nature of 3D printing. For example, 3D printing actually adds material onto each layer, rather than subtracting (cutting/slicing) and combining material. This results in smaller opportunities for error to occur and the wasting of fewer materials in the long run.
  2. 3D Printed Organs: Many know this particular field of 3D medical printing as bioprinting. According to The Smithsonian Magazine, bioprinting involves integrating human cells from the organ recipient into the “scaffolding” of the 3D printed organ. The scaffolding acts as the skeleton of the organ and the cells will grow and duplicate to support physiological function. Although this particular method is still in the experimental stages, there have been successful procedures performed in the past. Researchers at Wake Forest have found an effective method for bioprinting human organs; they have successfully implanted and grown skin, ears, bone, and muscle in lab animals. Further, scientists at Princeton University have 3D printed a bionic ear that can detect various frequencies, different than a biological, human ear. The researchers behind the creation of this bionic ear theorized that they could use a similar procedure for internal organs. Similar to surgical components, 3D printed organs would greatly reduce the cost of organ transplants. Additionally, it would increase the availability of organs, which are nearly impossible to find. Locating an appropriate match within a specific proximity of the patient has resulted in a global organ shortage. Whilst some have presented a solution in the form of international organ trade, WHO states that international organ trade could provide a significant health concern because of the lengthy trips the organs would experience. 3D printed organs may be a sustainable method to help impoverished nations with supply organs quickly and cheaply.
  3. Prosthetics: 3D printing in impoverished nations could also allow people to print custom prosthetics for those in need. The lack of access to current prosthetics creates a lot of obstacles for people living in impoverished nations. Creating prosthetics with 3D printing technology has the potential to provide a person the ability to accomplish basic, daily tasks in order to support a family. Not only are current prosthetics expensive, but they are also often inconvenient or they prohibit natural motion. For example, Cambodia treats a prosthetic hand as a cosmetic item, leading the majority of the population to refuse the prosthetic due to the lack of functionality. The Victoria Hand project is currently attempting to change this perspective by providing functional, 3D printed prosthetic hands to Cambodia and Nepal. The team has performed user trials, where the aim is to distribute the 3D printed hand to the general populace. Subsequently, the design will go to multiple fabrication services to maximize accessibility.

These three examples of 3D printing in impoverished nations show just how important 3D printing is and will continue to be to aiding those in need. With further development, 3D printing should allow people to receive prosthetics and organ transplants more easily.

– Jacob Creswell
Photo: Wikimedia