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Taking 3D Printed Medical Solutions Farther Than Ever Before

3d4md-logoIn 2011, I founded 3D4MD with the mission of creating 3D printable medical supplies to deliver healthcare in the most challenging places to those whose need is the greatest.

Today, 3D4MD is bringing innovators, healthcare professionals and patients together to make 3D printable medical solutions that can have a positive impact on one billion lives. Our role is to inspire, teach and empower people to become innovators and use 3D printing to solve big challenges. To enable us to accomplish these goals, we’re building a crowd-sourced digital library, like iTunes. But instead of songs, people can select and download 3D printable files to make quality-tested, affordable and even personalized medical supplies on demand, locally.

Over one billion people lack access to electricity. In many remote places, simple medical items are costly and can take weeks to months to arrive at a clinic. 3D4MD has designed and tested a solar-powered, plug-and-play, ultra-portable 3D printing system that can manufacture a range of hygienic, effective and low-cost medical supplies at the point of use. Healthcare workers visiting remote villages can bring this solar-powered suitcase 3D printer with them to make medical supplies on-site. These workers can leave these 3D printers behind after teaching the local clinic and community how to design and 3D print their own solutions.

There are over one billion people with disabilities. Many of them need, but can’t get, assistive devices that allow them to participate fully in everyday life. But now it’s possible to 3D print low cost assistive devices using local desktop 3D printers in public libraries, schools, makerspaces, print shops or people’s homes. This saves time and money for people with disabilities. 3D4MD makes award-winning, low-cost 3D printable custom assistive devices ranging from simple items, such as finger splints, to complex devices, like prosthetic hands.

A Humanitarian Design Process

3D printed custom mallet finger splint, scalpel blade handle, and dental tool designed and 3D printed by the Crew 145 Health and Safety Officer using her 3D printer powered by solar energy at the Mars Desert Research Station. Photo credit: Julielynn Wong
3D printed custom mallet finger splint, scalpel blade handle, and dental tool designed and 3D printed by the Crew 145 Health and Safety Officer using her 3D printer powered by solar energy at the Mars Desert Research Station. Photo credit: Julielynn Wong

At 3D4MD, we believe that the ideal 3D printable design of a medical device for low-resource environments should: (1) be manufactured entirely out of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) printer filament; (2) be printable without support material using affordable, portable fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printers; (3) require no post-processing and little-to-no assembly by minimally trained personnel; (4) be functional, robust, reliable and customizable; (5) be hygienic or sterilization capable, depending on its clinical use; and (6) consume minimal power and printer material.

How Far Can We Go?

Astronauts can’t take everything they will need with them on a long space mission. So they may have to 3D print medical supplies, tools, equipment spare parts and even habitats on-site. 3D4MD makes 3D printable medical supplies to treat an ill or injured astronaut during a space mission. The next generation 3D printer is now onboard the International Space Station. 3D4MD is scheduled to 3D print the first medical tools in space.

With 3D printing, physical objects can be stored as digital files. So you can email medical supplies around the world or uplink hardware to space. This also means it’s possible to crowd-source innovative 3D designs on an unprecedented scale. Last year, I proposed a design challenge for creating 3D printable medical supplies for the International Space Station. This project challenge, entitled “3D AstroMed Devices,” was launched during the 2015 NASA International Space Apps challenge, a two-day hackathon for designing new solutions for global challenges. Nearly 20 interdisciplinary teams from various countries, including Australia, Cyprus, Ecuador, Finland, France, Japan, Macedonia, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, the United Kingdom and the United States, competed in this design challenge.

Oxygen for Two with GrabCAD

Winning entry for the Oxygen Splitter Challenge. Photo by Hans Kristian Bruun
Winning entry for the Oxygen Splitter Challenge. Photo by Hans Kristian Bruun

Last fall, 3D4MD was invited to help create and co-sponsor a humanitarian design challenge hosted by GrabCAD, a library of over 1.2 million CAD files crowd-sourced from a global community of 2.9 million engineers. The Oxygen Valve Splitter” Challenge sought to create a 3D printable oxygen splitter with independent control of oxygen flow rates for two patients, sharing one oxygen tank, who are receiving supplemental oxygen via nasal cannulas. This will help conserve oxygen use, which is a precious commodity in low-resource settings. The judging panel consisted of 3D printing experts from the healthcare, citizen, industry and academic sectors.

More than 125 entries were submitted during the one-month challenge entry period. Based on 3D4MD’s recommendations, entries were judged on printability, functionality and cost. Printability was evaluated by the quality of 3D printed designs manufactured on a FDM desktop 3D printer. Functionality was assessed based on the strength and fit of the device, the absence of air leakage and ease of use. Cost was estimated based on the amount of 3D printer material used.

The top five winners received cash prizes. All winning designs are available for unlimited humanitarian use.

3D4MD is now testing and refining these oxygen splitter designs in a clinic for eventual deployment in the field. You can help us improve the design of an oxygen splitter or other medical devices that will prevent needless suffering, save the lives of people you will never meet and will continue to help people after you’re gone. Email us at if you’d like to get involved as a volunteer.

Imagine the big problems we could solve when we harness humanity’s collective creativity and compassion!

Stratasys has its finger on the pulse of 3D printing innovation in healthcare. Interested? Click here to sign up for the Stratasys Medical Innovation Series and receive updates on the latest advances in medical 3D printing applications.

This post is also available in: Portuguese (Brazil)

Julielynn Wong

Julielynn Wong

Dr. Julielynn Wong is a Harvard-educated public health physician and is the founding director of 3D4MD, a global health program that makes 3D printable medical supplies. She regularly lectures on innovation in healthcare and is a frequent contributor to various media outlets including ABC News, Forbes, and the Huffington Post.

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