Dec 22, 2017 | By Benedict

A physician from the Netherlands is attempting to drive to Sierra Leone in order to set up a program for 3D printing hand prostheses. Dutch 3D printer manufacturer Ultimaker is supplying an FDM 3D printer for the project.

(Image: ETZ Fotografie & Film / Maria van der Heyden)

What’s the longest journey you’ll make in a car this week? Two hours? Three? For 29-year-old Dutch physician Lars Brouwers, things are a little more extreme: his next ride is going to take three whole weeks.

As part of an ambitious project for charity, Brouwers is attempting to drive from his home in Den Bosch, Netherlands, all the way to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone in Africa. But this isn’t some kind of endurance race: the medical expert is bringing an Ultimaker 3D printer with him, and intends to 3D print hand prostheses for locals there.

Staying with a friend who works as a doctor in Freetown, Brouwers will attempt to link up with the multi-city Innovate Salone entrepreneurial project, using an Ultimaker 3 3D printer (provided free of charge by Ultimaker) to fabricate hand prostheses with movable fingers. Each prosthesis can be 3D printed in just one day, while hinges and indestructible fishing wire provide a solid gripping function.

“Many children have only a wrist or forearm due to an abnormality from before or during birth, or they have lost a hand by war violence,” Brouwers says. “The printer makes a complete hand prosthesis in one day with fingers that can move.”

(Image: Lars Brouwers)

Fortunately, this isn’t a case of Brouwers dropping in with a nice idea but no technical skill. The physician is able to operate the 3D printer himself, and also has access to a number of spare parts for maintenance purposes. He can even call colleagues at a hospital in Nijmegen for advanced technical assistance.

More importantly, however, Brouwers will attempt to pass on his 3D printing expertise to locals in Freetown, showing them how to design and 3D print hand prostheses themselves. This, he hopes, will make a small difference in terms of bridging the gap between healthcare in the West and in poorer countries.

In January, Brouwers will start his training as a surgeon back in Nijmegen, but will continue working with 3D printing as part of his doctoral research, adding to the two years he has already dedicated to the cause. Earlier this year, the physician was recognized with the Technical Innovation Award at his practicing hospital, ETZ Elisabeth in Tilburg.

“I want to show that 3D printing works cost-effectively compared to normal care,” says Brouwers, who has a particular focus on hip surgeries, for which he has 3D printed anatomical models of bones and joints for surgical preparation. “The use of 3D printing and VR is still in its infancy, but will be of great added value for medical specialists in the future.”

The Ultimaker 3D printer will remain in Sierra Leone, where others can continue to utilize the machine for medical use.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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