Jul 9, 2018 | By Thomas

In order to diagnose a deadly disease, researchers from South Australia, Texas and Ethiopia are collaborating with 3D printing technology to find pesky parasites.

Credit: Flinders University

Leishmaniasis is a disease caused by parasites that can produce ulcers on the skin and mouth. The World Health Organisation estimates that up to 1 million new cases and 30,000 deaths occur annually, usually in people who live in poverty or unsanitary conditions. Although this desease can lead to ulcers and death, leishmanias is curable if diagnosed and treated early.

The 3D printed field test kit designed by researchers  is designed to diagnose leishmaniasis, a disease caused by parasites that can produce ulcers on the skin and mouth, and sometimes even resort to death. Currently in the testing stage, the kit is being examined by Armauer Hansen Research Institute (AHRI) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The World Health Organization estimated nearly 1 million new cases and 30,000 deaths occur every year from leishmaniasis, usually in people who live in poverty or unclean environments. Although this disease has the potential to lead to death, leishmaniasis is curable if diagnosed and treated early.

Addis Ababa-based Dr. Gadisa identified several difficulties in testing for the disease in Ethiopia. Currently, the cost of the liquid medium (reagent) used for testing is very high. The test tubes used to store the reagent are too fragile, having microscopes on hand to view the samples is difficult and it can take over a week to get results.

In result, Dr. Gadisa developed a design for a test tube that requires significantly less reagent (10 microliters versus 25 millilitres) and could provide results in as few as three days, but he lacked the ability to build his prototype in Addis Ababa.

This is where Andrew Nerlinger, director of PandemicTech in Austin, offered to work with Dr. Gadisa as one of the  incubator's original pilot test projects. Nerlinger then brought to problem to Matt Salier, director of Flinders University’s New Venture Institute in South Australia.

“When I eventually described the project to Matt Salier during the South by Southwest conference in March 2017, he offered to collaborate and introduced me to NVI’s Raphael Garcia, who ultimately worked directly with Dr. Gadisa and me on several design iterations resulting in the prototype depicted in the most recent photos,” Nerlinger said.

Prototyping the design was done on NVI’s Stratasys Objet Connex 3D printer and took less than four months. Various solutions were considered through a Design-Thinking process before picking the most suitable liquid that could be designed on CAD software.

3D printed test tube and caps that form part of the test kit. Credit: Flinders University

The first prototype was created using a clear liquid resin and was produced three main parts: a main body that could hold the fluid, a cork on top to plug the culture tube and a bottom plug which is removable to clean the culture tube. The main body has a central hole throughout the unit, which the plugs connect to in order for the culture tube to be re-used and cleaned.

This design was redefined several times to increase the tube’s durability and clearness for microscopic inspection. Different materials were 3D printed and tested for the top and bottom plugs to ensure they could completely seal the main body while remaining easily removable for cleaning and sterilising.

In total, the finished kit cost less than A$5,000 to create and is packed in an off-the-shelf Pelican case with foam laser-cut. The pack comes with special 3D printed microscopes that attach to a smart phone camera, converting the phone into a powerful 60x magnification microscope that can collect photos for diagnostic purposes.

“The new testing device will allow more patients to be treated earlier and decrease the amount of time it takes to obtain a diagnosis," said Nerlinger. "It will also potentially allow health workers to provide a diagnosis to patients while conducting medical work in the remote regions often most impacted by leishmaniasis. If the testing is successful then the opportunity exists to build a financially sustainable social impact company around the testing kit that brings together resources from Ethiopia and Australia.”

Despite the team being more than 10,000 km apart, Salier said projects like these demonstrate how new technologies and business models could address large-scale problems facing society.

“We don’t need more software to solve problems already solved 10 times over, what we do need is innovation which has impact, that creates value by applying new approaches to global challenges,” Salier said.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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