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The medical world could become much cheaper thanks to 3D printing

on Sep 19 2014 , 09:00:03

The world of medicine could become a lot cheaper, thanks to a team of researchers at Michigan Technological University (MTU).

Engineer Joshua Pearce and his team of researchers at MTU created an entire digital library of open source designs for a particular medical device, a syringe pump. Each design comes in the form of a printable file that can be 3D printed with a RepRap 3D printer, and each file can be customized by doctors according to their needs. The team posted their findings in a research paper titled Open-Source Syringe Pump Library.

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Professional medical syringe pumps, which are frequently used by doctors for drug delivery to administer precise amounts of medicine, can cost between hundreds to thousands of dollars. By creating an open library of customizable printable syringe pump files, the team at MTU have enabled anyone with access to a 3D printer to attain a pump for a fraction of the cost. Whereas syringe pumps would previously cost thousands of dollars, doctors can now print them for nothing more than the cost of filament.


“Not only have we designed a single syringe pump, we’ve designed all future syringe pumps,” said Pearce. “Scientists can customize the design of a pump for exactly what they are doing, just by changing a couple of numbers in the software.”

Another breakthrough

Pearce and his team tested out the library for themselves, using a 3D printer to print various pump designs. They decided to expand their idea even further and incorporate a Raspberry Pi as a wireless controller. With the Raspberry Pi, they could control the syringe pump remotely. This breakthrough could allow doctors to control medical devices even while not physically present.

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“That way, you can link the syringe pump to the network, sit on a beach in hawaii and control your lab,” said Pearce. “Plenty of people can have access, and you can run multiple experiments at the same time. Our entire single-pump system costs only $50 and can replace pumps that run between $250 and $2,500.”

If doctors want a double-pump system that includes remote access, they will have to pay the $120 Pearce and his team will charge. But this pales in comparison to the $5,000 it usually costs for a commercial system.


Part of the syringe pump system. Source: Gizmodo

Democratizing the medical industry

Pearce and his team have made it possible for anyone, anywhere, to easily, efficiently and inexpensively obtain and use a syringe pump. And syringe pumps are just the beginning. The team plans to add further medical devices to the collection and welcomes doctors and researchers around the world to develop it further.

“The international scientific open-source lab community is growing rapidly,” said Pearce. “From UC Berkeley’s Tekla Lab to Sensorica in Montreal and OpenLabTools at the University of Cambridge, we are all working together to make science cheaper, faster and better. I’m sure someone will improve our designs and share the results with us and the rest of the community. That’s the beauty and power of open source.”

Shanie Phillips is a originally from the UK, but has spent many years in Singapore, the US and now Israel. In addition to writing for Inside3DP she writes for several news and innovation sites.

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