Print My Part, a Cambridge-based 3D printing service, and Ramiro Joly-Mascheroni, a PHD student within the Cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit at City, University of London, have collaborated to create a range of 3D printed visual development stimulus models for prematurely born babies.
As part of Joly-Mascheroni’s research into neurocognitive mechanisms, the range of 3D printed visual models is currently being used within European hospitals to rehabilitate underdeveloped visual system within babies born before a full-term pregnancy.
3D printing a brighter future
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 15 million babies are born prematurely every year. Within this amount, one in 20 is likely to be born blind or visually impaired – a 22% increase within the past decade.
Considering this growing dilemma, Joly-Mascheroni wanted to create an accessible and effective stimulus that trains the eye-gaze and overall sight of premature babies while inside their neonatal incubators.
Babies completely rely on neonatal incubators for survival during the first few months of life outside the womb, thus, doctors have used this time period as an opportunity to intervene in their basic visual motor skills development.
Within the neonatal units, medical professionals commonly use basic 2D images of colourful patterns, objects, animals, and emoticons to help a child focus their gaze on particular subjects while developing their retina and optic nerves.
Creating the models in a one-stop shop
A team at the Cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit approached Print My Part to help design and print the 3D visual aid models.
Using a Stratasys uPrint SE Plus 3D printer with FDM technology, the team at Print My Part was able to produce child-friendly and effective visual stimulation models.
Previous medical research suggests that black and white contrasts register powerfully on a baby’s retina, sending the strongest visual signals to the baby’s brain. Therefore, Print My Part made up of a number of simple black and white slices which were assembled together to form a variety of spherical and pyramid-based shapes.
In addition, to allow better handling of the models, hold points were added to the base plates of each shape. Currently, the team is designing a mounting part to be incorporated on the models, making it easily attachable to incubator doors.
Print My Part and the Cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit teams are also considering the SLA 3D printing process to print the visual models as it complies with the EU regulations concerning sterilization.
3D printing and child health care
Additive manufacturing has demonstrated several breakthrough applications within medical treatments for children.
3D printing has been used as a surgical planning aid among surgeons across the world to ensure a safe and successful surgical operation. Recently, researchers at the Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) created 3D printed replicas of children’s hearts for surgeons to better plan complex and crucial heart surgeries.
Furthermore, volunteer organization 3DP4ME are currently raising funds for a project which aims to provide 3D printed hearing-aid earmolds to disadvantaged populations in the Middle East.
Using its combination of 3D scanning and 3D printing, 3DP4ME hope to manufacture 1000s of hearing aid molds in a year.
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Featured image shows 3D printed spherical visual aid model. Photo via Print My Part.