New Jersey high school student Ian McHale has developed a 3D printable splint that can be produced for as little as two cents. It can be customized to fit everyone from children to adults, and can be made from recycled plastic.
McHale hopes that the technology will eventually be available to people in developing countries. Medical care is scarce in many parts of the world and something as small as a splint can make a big difference to someone who has no other options.
"This is an affordable solution," McHale said. "If somebody donates a $1,200 printer, you can continue to use recycled plastic to make these splints or any other medical devices."
The splint design began as a biology assignment. McHale's teacher instructed him to create something that could help people. There was just one small catch: whatever he produced had to cost less than $10.
McHale had the idea for the splint as he was attending the Mini Medical School program at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. Each semester the Mini Med School program pairs selected students with available mentors. Together, they investigate ways to apply science, math, technology and engineering to medicine. Ian McHale's mentor was pathologist Dr. Richard Siderits.
McHale and Siderits designed the splint using CAD software and the hospital's 3D printer. Once designed, the splint took only ten minutes to print.
"We also talked about the ethics of this project," said Siderits. "What if you could print out a human organ?"
3D printing has already been used to create everything from a life saving airway splint to an artificial hip. New 3D printing material is being designed to help dentists make perfectly-fitting implants and the medical breakthroughs seem to just keep on coming.
As for McHale, he won first prize in the Mercer Science and Engineering Fair. He also uploaded his design to Thingiverse.com, where you can download it for free.