Aug 14, 2015 | By Simon

When we think of 3D printed medical devices, it’s only natural to think of 3D printed prosthetics - such as those made possible thanks to organizations such as eNABLE - however the potential for producing low-cost medical devices doesn’t just end there.

Tarek Loubani, an emergency physician who is currently working in the Gaza strip, recently created a stethoscope using a 3D printer at a cost of just thirty cents.  Impressively, the 3D printed stethoscope is just as effective in practice as an equivalent $200 or more professional device.   

Unsurprisingly, the 3D printed stethoscope has been a hit with others working alongside Loubani.  Among other reasons, doctors are able to produce them for cheap and on-demand in developing countries or in the field.  Previously, doctors who didn’t have stethoscopes would hold their ears against the chest of victims to monitor heart activity.  


“I had to hold my ear to the chests of victims because there were no good stethoscopes, and that was a tragedy, a travesty, and unacceptable," explained Loubani.

"We made a list of these things that if I could bring them into Gaza, into the third world in which I work and live, then I felt like I could change the lives of my patients.  I wanted the people I work with to take it, and to print it, and to improve it because I knew all I wanted to do was bring the idea."

Interestingly enough, Loubani was inspired to create the 3D printed stethoscope design after testing his nephew’s stethoscope toy and discovering that its performance in monitoring heart activity performed much better than expected.  After further research, Loubani discovered that the costs for stethoscopes remain high despite the expiration of 1960s-era stethoscope design patents.  

To ensure that his new and cheaper stethoscope design would be up to the necessary standards in order to be used in the field by professionals, Loubani brought together a number of experts including other medical professionals and designers to further develop the stethoscope design at a total cost of $10,000.  

The result of their efforts is a new open source medical hardware initiative called the Glia Project.  The goal of the project is to produce and release high quality free/open medical hardware to increase availability to those who need it - such as in the Gaza Strip where the initiative’s first stethoscope was born.

According to Loubani, the need for low-cost medical tools is more prominent than most would think; at just one Gazn hospital - which covers more than one million patients - a single autosculpt (an instrument for peering inside of an ear canal) is used and the hospital only has a few stethoscopes on hand.  Because the equipment can cost nearly an entire month’s salary for a Palestinian doctor, many aren’t able to afford it.   

Other medical devices that Loubani and his team are developing include a pulse oximeter for monitoring blood oxygen levels and an electrocardiogram for cardiac patients.  

As we continue to see more hardware designs follow in the footsteps of the open source software movement, it’s disruptive projects like Loubani’s that are sure to have the largest impact.  

Currently, Loubani hopes that within the next quarter-century, the devices will be commonplace in developing countries.  To help make this a reality, he is seeking experienced medical professionals and designers to help develop more medical products.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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