Bridging the Opportunity Divide

How 3D Printing Can Reduce Medical Expenses

October 2, 2014
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How 3D Printing Can Reduce Medical Expenses
Hindrik Sijens/Flickr Creative Commons
The savings should trickle down to patients' pocketbooks.

Sometimes, it seems like medical expenses cost an arm and a leg (figuratively, of course). And that’s not just the case for patients, but doctors and researchers, too.

That’s all about to change though, thanks to a recent innovation involving 3D printing, syringes and the Michigan Technological University. The research team, led by Joshua Pearce, has created an online open-source syringe pump library — so now, instead of ordering equipment, doctors can download, customize and 3D print their own pump (which is used to give doses of medication or fluids to patients).

All of the designs are customizable and all a physician needs is a RepRap 3D printer, small electric stepper motor that drives liquids, simple hardware and a syringe.

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

Not only is this more efficient for physicians, but the 3D printing will drastically cut the cost of the equipment as well. While most open-source syringes run about $250 to $2,500, a 3D printed one only costs about $50 (the cost of the materials).

According to the researchers at Michigan Tech, “the development of open-source hardware has the potential to radically reduce the cost of performing experimental science and put high-quality scientific tools in the hands of everyone from the most prestigious labs to rural clinics in the developing world.”

Michigan Tech biomedical engineer Megan Frost agrees. She’s been using the 3D pumps to inject agents into culture cells.

“What’s beautiful about what Joshua is doing is that it lets us run three or four experiments in parallel, because we can get the equipment for so much less,” she tells Michigan Tech. “We’d always wanted to run experiments concurrently, but we couldn’t because the syringe pumps cost so much. This has really opened doors for us.”

Presumably, with the advent of 3D-printed equipment, the financial savings will be passed along to patients. Meaning that going to the doctor’s will soon be a little less painful — on your wallet anyways.

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