Back in March 2018, Dr. Tarek Loubani along with a number of other doctors published a paper on the validation of an effective, low cost open access 3D printed stethoscope for use in low-income access areas with little access to diagnostic tools.
The prospect made serious waves within the clinical profession, as the benefits were very plain to understand.
Loubani and his team had managed to design a fully functional 3D printed stethoscope, that could be made using recycled plastic in 3 hours for just $3.
In the published paper he goes on to explore how this 3D-printed stethoscope (which they state to be comparable to the Littmann Cardiology III); could be a viable diagnostic tool in low-income and even war-torn countries.
An environment that Dr Loubani has first hand experience in. In 2012 he was working in a hospital in Gaza where he shared a stethoscope with ten other doctors, (between them they were responsible for over 100 patients).
An impossible situation to say the least: “We weren’t just low on medical supplies, but even the basics, like stethoscopes, were totally missing,” said Loubani.
It was a situation that stirred Loubani into action. As as associate professor at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, (he is also an emergency room physician at London Health Sciences Centre in Ontario, Canada.), he set out to find a way doctors could create their own supplies in challenging environments cut off from normal supply chains.
A toy stethoscope became the catalyst for an idea. Despite the fact it was made from plastic, it did still function to some degree.
After conducting more research, he found that open access files for a 3D printed stethoscope did exist.
Loubani’s aim was to take this further, so that a 3D prototype could be made that was clinically validated. “Our product from this research is not the stethoscope, it is how to make the stethoscope and how to ensure that it is the best quality,” he said.
Loubani used free open-source software to create the model, using a desktop 3D printer and ABS plastic. This helped keep costs to a minimum, both in the view of the technology needed to print the stethoscope and the materials required.
“As far as we know this is the first open-source medical device that has been clinically validated” stated Loubani, “we wanted physicians and allied health care professionals to be able to have something that was high quality. We found that the acoustic quality was the same in our stethoscope as in a premium brand stethoscope.”
An incredible achievement for a $3 printed device.
However, as we stated at the beginning of the article; the paper was published in early 2018. Has any progress been made since then, and are there any 3D printed stethoscopes being used out in the field?
The 3D printed stethoscope in Practice
Throughout 2018, physicians in both Gaza and London, Ontario have been testing the stethoscope in real-life clinical situations.
In fact, during the summer of 2018 Dr Tarek Loubani was actually based in the besieged Palestinian territory of Gaza.
With countless protestors injured by Israeli Defense Forces, the Glia Project 3D Stethoscope became a vital diagnostic tool.
Within the challenging confines of Gaza, the healthcare workers were able to use 3D printing technology to bypass the Israeli blockade encircling the territory (which had been set up to prevent the entrance of much-needed supplies, amongst other things).
The ability to 3D print the stethoscope, ensured that Dr Loubani did not experience the same situation he had in 2012, when 10 doctors had to share one scope across an entire hospital of patients.
The Glia Project Moves into other 3D printed supplies
The demands of the crisis in Gaza saw the Glia Project respond in other ways too; much needed tourniquets.
As Dr. Loubani reported in a blogpost during the blockade: The Hayat Center for Emergency & Crisis Management determined that bringing tourniquets to Gaza could help reduce deaths related to blood loss.
However, the high costs of the purchasing tourniquets via traditional methods, (USD$50 per unit for 20,000 units) and the fact Israel’s blockade could easily prevent them from arriving, meant an open-source, 3D-printed tourniquet was the perfect solution.
After design and initial field-testing, the resulting tourniquets were 3D-printed using local and recycled plastic. Furthermore, the team had access to a Prusa i3 MK2 3D printer which was technically advanced enough to print the much needed supplies.
The Hayat Center then began training paramedics on how to use of tourniquets within Gaza. In reaction to the crisis, the Glia team ceased working on other 3D projects at the time in order to meet the demand for the tourniquets.
The Future for Dr Loubani
Despite suffering from a bullet wound to his left leg and a wound to the right knee during the hostilities, Loubani has stated his determination to continue working on providing much-needed medical technology to the people of Gaza.
In recent months this has been helped with further funding from the Shuttleworth Foundation, the Division of Emergency Medicine at the London Health Sciences Centre (EMLondon), and the Faculty of Medicine at University of Western Ontario.
The future for 3D printable, medical supplies certainly looks promising.
- Read Dr. Loubani’s personal accounts of his experiences in Gaze here and here.
- Learn about the Glia Project here.
- The results of the Glia 3D printed stethoscope were published in the journal PLOS ONE.
- The original files for the 3D printed Stethoscope are hosted on GitHub, Thingiverse and MyMiniFactory.