Jun 2, 2016 | By Alec

Design competitions are always a fantastic opportunity to find the most innovative concepts around and the Luxexcel Innovative Application Awards, of Dutch optics 3D printing specialists Luxexcel, proved no different. Industrial design student Leroy Huikeshoven was among the competition’s winners for his Vasu malaria test, a 3D printed smartphone case which uses microfluidic principles and an app to diagnose malaria in the blood of patients.

Vasu means ‘bright’ in Hindi, and is more necessary than ever before in India. There, it’s getting harder and harder to fight off malaria as it is becoming resistant to commonly used drugs, in part due to improper use. What’s more, diagnosis methods are old-fashioned, and can take days to provide results. Some pocket-sized tests are used, but they are unable to signify what parasite species have caused the disease. Due to practical obstacles, little is done to solve these problems, even though some studies suggest that every Rupee invested in malaria control pays economic dividends of nearly 20 Rupees.

The Vasu is supposed to be the answer to all of those problems, and was designed with India in mind. The first prototype has been made to fit on a Huawei Ascend P6 smartphone, and combines microfluidics principles with 3D printing. Cheap to make and easy to use, Huikeshoven revealed that this clever system can quickly quantify the amount of malaria parasites in a patient and immediately facilitate accurate treatment.

So how does it work? The Vasu is capable of diagnosing two forms of malaria parasites in patients (Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium falciparum), by examining blood samples collected on an especially 3D printed disposable microchip. By harnessing microfluidics principles, the blood is mixed with an antigen and is held by the chip for analysis. The smartphone’s flashlight is subsequently guided through the blood through an app, which analyses the photo immediately. The doctor is then informed about the exact drug dosage needed to combat the parasites, with the whole process taking minutes.

This makes it a truly revolutionary product; one that would not have been possible without the crossroads of smartphone technology, microfluidics and 3D printing. Smartphones are commonly found throughout developing countries, and their ever-improving megapixel cameras and high-quality lenses have become excellent diagnostics tools. Indeed, the same principle can be easily applied to other blood-based diseases and smartphones, and could revolutionize medical care in remote locations and developing countries.

While the Vasu reached the spotlights of Luxexcel's Innovative Application Student Award 2015, it was actually developed as part of Huikeshoven's final bachelor project. Although he has no background in medical product design, he explained that he found inspiration in a random paper he stumbled upon. “This paper described a concept much like Vasu, but still in laboratory state. I made this concept into a real feasible and viable product, iterating upon the concept in the paper. And this is probably what industrial designer mainly are. They make the last big iteration upon concepts and innovations to get them out in the market, to actuality let society benefit from new discoveries and innovations,” he said. And of course, like every industrial designer, he wanted to change the world.

But the Vasu’s huge potential has already fundamentally changed the student’s ambitions. “Micro- and nanofluidics could be the bridge between us and our machines. I believe our laptops and our browsers are still a very poor portal to the digital world and I believe we can incorporate the digital world way better in or lives,” he says in an interview. “Vasu is but one example of an emerging market of small and cheap point of care devices. The future of Vasu however is less interesting than the potential of microfluidics. Microfluidics is going to be a huge beneficial technology for society.”

But none of this would have been possible without Luxexcel’s Printoptical Technology, as other 3D printing technologies are unsuitable for microfluidic structures. The company has become renowned for this 3D printed optics technology, which creates highly accurate, smooth and transparent products. Based on wide-format industrial inkjet printing equipment, their custom 3D printing system jets (rather than layers) transparent droplets of a UV-curable polymer. These are then cured by strong UV-lamps which are integrated onto the print head.

The fantastic smoothness and transparency of the results makes it a perfect solution for lenses. For the Vasu, the chip and the lenses were 3D printed in Polymethyl methacrylate. “The most significant benefit of using Printoptical Technology is to be able to iterate on prototypes and concepts during the development of microfluidic devices for the medical industry. Medical devices must be absolutely save to operate, therefor intensive testing is needed. Being able to make quick and cheap iterations could made a company a heavy weight within the market,” Huikeshoven said of the technology, adding that he believes that Luxexcel could become a significant player in the microfluidic device market.

But Huikeshoven isn’t done with the Vasu malaria test yet. In the near future, he will continue to develop it into a commercially viable product, for instance, he plans to cut it loose from its dependence on smartphone technology. More groundbreaking microfluidic 3D printing projects might follow afterwards. “I would like to see Luxexcel continue to help develop products that contribute to increasing living standards in many fields, such as healthcare, drug detection, crime investigation and the food industry with microfluidic devices and optics,” the ambitious student concludes.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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