Solar powered 3D printing could be the answer to providing medical supplies in remote areas

Creating medical supplies as needed using 3D printing could be a more efficient way to cut costs and customize care.

Toronto, Canada-based Dr. Julielynn Wong, a Harvard-educated physician, along with other researchers, have explored the use of 3D printing with the underlying idea that it could be possible to print on an as-needed basis. The premise started with considering how to minimize the supplies taken on space missions.

Wong’s company 3D4MD is focused on making the 3D printing of medical supplies, particularly with solar powered devices, small enough and easy to use and transport. She was the first person to develop 3D print medical supplies at the Mars Desert Research Station.

In particular, Wong has focused on creating a finger splint designed for mallet finger (what we generally call a jammed finger), which might seem minor but can be pretty debilitating as it can result in a ruptured or stretched extensor digitorum tendon, which runs through the hand into the wrist and up the arm.

In remote areas, it doesn’t make sense to have these types of medical supplies sitting around until they need to be used. So using the solar powered 3D printers at the time a splint, for example, is needed can actually save money and customize care for patients.

In a video talking about the finger splint, Wong said:

“To have a custom mallet finger splint made by a hand therapist a patient usually has to cover the hand therapist’s labor time as well as the material costs. The material cost of 3D printing is half the material cost of making a mallet splint with a hand therapist. And, 3D printing custom mallet splints saves labor time because you’ve automated part of the splint-making process.”

Whether it’s in space or in rural areas around the world, Wong’s 3D printer is an example of how providing medical supplies can be made easier and even less expensive.