How 3D printing is helping arthritis patients

Researchers from Michigan Technological University (MTU) and Finland’s Aalto University, have created 3D printed adaptive aids to support people suffering from arthritis.

In a study published in MDPI, Professor Joshua M. Pearce of the Materials Science and Engineering department at MTU, as well as bioengineering student Nicole Gallup, and Orthopaedic Surgeon Jennifer K. Bow, evaluated the economic viability of 3D printed gadgets that can improve the standard of living of those suffering from rheumatic diseases.

According to the research, “By 2040, more than a quarter of the U.S. population will have diagnosed arthritic conditions. Adults with arthritis and other rheumatic conditions earn less than average yet have medical care expenditures that are over 12% of average household income.”

“Adaptive aids can help arthritis patients continue to maintain independence and quality of life; however, their high costs limit accessibility for older people and the poor.”

3D printed adaptive aids

The researchers recognized additive manufacturing as a method for reducing the cost of adaptive aids. Assessing this theory, the team used PLA to fabricate 20 adaptive aids on low-cost delta-style RepRap Athena II 3D printer kits from Michigan’s 3D4EDUcosting under $500.

From stationary, kitchen utensils, to general healthcare gadgets, the adaptive aids were produced at a mere cost of $20, significantly less than those commercially available on the market. Furthermore, the team designed the aids using CURA software and published them on the open source 3D printing design platform MyMiniFactory, and Appropedia.

The open source designs also allow consumers to adapt and personalize their aids to best suit them. The study adds, “Some people’s insurance or Medicare plan does help pay for adaptive aids. Our analysis found that even this group of patients would save significant amounts of money 3D printing their assistance items at home.”

a 3D printed adaptive aid used to chop vegetables. Photo via MTU.
A 3D printed adaptive aid used to chop vegetables. Photo via MTU.

Treating arthritis with 3D printing

Concluding the research, the team found that each adaptive aid was “able to perform the technical mechanical function for which it was designed.” Nevertheless, further work is underway to find out where the devices would be most applicable. 

“Policymakers, as well as philanthropists, should consider funding the open-source design of arthritis aids that have not already been developed.”

“As arthritis is going to be an even more prevalent problem in the future, the application of distributed manufacturing represents a means to economically help society adapt to some of the increased costs associated with the disease.”

The study, “Economic Potential for Distributed Manufacturing of Adaptive Aids for Arthritis Patients in the U.S.” is co-authored Nicole Gallup, Jennifer K. Bow, and Joshua M. Pearce.

A 3D printed pen holder. Photo via MTU.
A 3D printed pen holder. Photo via MTU.

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Featured image shows a 3D printed pen holder. Photo via MTU.