HAMILTON: Inspired creation

Steinert student, mentor team to make low-cost medical device

By Megan Morreale, Special Writer
   Challenged in his AP biology class at Steinert High School to create a device that could help people for under $10, Ian McHale turned to a mentor for assistance.
   The high school senior sought help from Dr. Richard Siderits, a pathologist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton, who teaches students participating in the Mini Medical School program at the hospital.
   With Dr. Siderits help, Ian was able to create a finger splint that can be printed with a 3D printer for less than 2 cents.
   ”I was able to learn so much about the human body and with the STEM program,” Ian said. “The program is what inspired me to stay in the science field and go to med school.”
   Under Dr. Siderits mentorship, Ian realized that he could create this cost-effective solution, and help people all over the world, especially in third-world countries such as Ghana.
   Using TrueSpace, a design and development program for 3D printers, Ian developed the finger splint, which won him first prize in his division at the Mercer Science and Engineering Fair, as well as a certificate of achievement from the U.S. Air Force.
   After the creation of the device, Dr. Siderits and Ian contacted the Noor Women’s Clinic in Kumasi, Ghana, where doctors were amazed that this technology could be available at such a low cost.
   Ian’s design has been uploaded onto Thingeverse.com, and has been downloaded and used 600 times.
   ”On Thingeverse I wanted to make sure what I was doing was the first,” Ian said. “There were no finger splints, but as I was searching I found that you can print out such simple things. If someone has a 3D printer, they can print anything from parts for machines, to medical technology.”
   The Mini Medical School hosted by RWJ Hamilton’s Community Health Education Department tries to introduce the basics of medicine to the community, Dr. Siderits said.
   ”We get people from all walks of life,” Dr. Siderits said. “We took STEM principles — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — and incorporated them as they apply to medicine. We grew from a few high school students to around 60 to 70”
   Although Ian did not revolutionize the splint itself, his design showed how the technology would work to revolutionize the medical industry, through making it available at such a low cost.
   His finger splint design showcases the adaptability of the technology, through it’s ability to be printed in any size, in order to fit the needs of the patient, Dr. Siderits said.
   ”It’s so simple to work on these programs and then to be able to print something out,” Ian said. “You then have something that is actually working.”
   Dr. Siderits demonstrated how the technology works through designing objects in 3D imagery, rotating over a 3D platform. He then brought a small plastic ring, designed with the program by hollowing out a small cube, to life with his 3D printer.
   The printer’s platform downloaded the data from the program, and melted the plastic spun from a spool on its side through a metal opening, much like a hot glue gun. The machine’s platform then raised to the nozzle, moving in exact increments so the plastic to could fall and create the plastic ring.
   ”You can watch how the machine creates the ring layer by layer,” Ian said. “With each layer it can also create details inside as well as outside.”
   Dr. Siderits detailed how 3D printing would revolutionize several industries, especially the medical industry.
   RWJ Hamilton is currently utilizing the technology, by printing CT images of masses such as lung tumors to hand to a surgeon before operating on a patient, Dr. Siderits said.
   ”The tumor is completely recreated with internal structure inside,” Dr. Siderits said. “A surgeon can hold this in his hand, familiarize himself with it, and even cut into it to better prepare himself for surgery.”
   Three-dimensional printers can print in many more materials than just plastic. There are devices that can print in metals and other materials, including live cells, Dr. Siderits said.
   ”Being with Dr. Siderits I learned a lot more other than the 30 minutes he taught on 3D printing,” Ian said. “I saw how people were able to print an ear with living cells, put it under a man’s ear and it was working.”
   As Ian worked with Dr. Siderits, they discussed how other objects could be printed in the future, from body organs to entire houses.
   ”The holy grail for this technology is to print a robot that walks off of the build platform, and goes out into the world and gets experience,” Dr. Siderits said, “It then returns to its ‘mom’ with life experience to share, and its ‘mom’ builds replacement parts or new parts to better serve it’s life.”
   Because there are so many possibilities, Dr. Siderits also discusses the ethical implications with his students.
   ”As many things as you can make,” Dr. Siderits said, “You can make so many things to help human kind. But you can also make things that are harmful.”
   Dr. Siderits participates in the Mini Medical program and mentors about three students a year — including Ian this year — who approached him for further knowledge in this subject.
   ”Ian is one of the students who came to me and said, ‘I’d like to learn more about this’ ,” Dr. Siderits said. “ ‘It’s amazing, show me.’ “
   Ian said he had gained valuable experience from the program, which inspired him to pursue a biology degree when he attends University of Vermont in the fall, and later to get a medical degree.
   ”One of my goals is to completely follow through with the program,” Ian said. “I’d like to participate in a study-abroad program, and bring my knowledge and research with me.”