Educating the next generation to solve complex health problems through design thinking


Design for Disability @ Comcast Collaboration Studio!

Class #1: Intro to 3D Printing

This semester we are focusing our JeffDESIGN coursework on additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing) and its implications for health care. I find myself regularly explaining why we teach 3D printing to our medical students and I always start off with how 3D printing is not a simply a curiosity or flashy toy, but a powerful tool. I also stress that it is not some kind of magical creation-engine that can single handedly solve all of The World’s problems. Like any other tool, it is only powerful when wielded intelligently and with purpose. For this course, our purpose will be designing accessibility solutions for people with a disability. 

Dr. Bon Ku, welcoming everyone and introducing the class!

Dr. Bon Ku, welcoming everyone and introducing the class!

We will be exploring desktop 3D printing technology and its uses in healthcare thanks to the support of our community partners at Comcast and this collaborative class will be appropriately held at the Comcast Collaboration Studio here in Philadelphia. Our first use case for the technology will be Enable Community Foundation prosthetic hands. Designed by a community of volunteers, these hands are high quality functional prosthetics that anyone with a 3D printer can make, allowing for a high level of customization. Generally, experimental bio-printers tend to be what most people think about when one mentions 3D printing and healthcare. As incredible as the possibility of printing a functional organ in the future may be, we are focusing on the 3D printing technology that is much more readily accessible today, the consumer grade desktop 3D printer.

The CEO of Jefferson Health, Dr. Stephen Klasko, recently mentioned 3D printers as the next progression in the line from pen, to typewriter, to word processor, and beyond. There was a time when computers were a technology that only a select educated few could utilize and I’m sure there were doubters who saw them forever existing as a curiosity, with only a superficial purpose. Of course we know how central computers have become to everyday life and that includes their core role in our healthcare system. I’m not saying that 3D printers will end up as critical to our daily life as computers have become, but there is no doubting that the technology has extraordinary implications for how we create and interact with the physical environment.

Far more critical to the education of our future physicians than teaching them how to 3D print, is providing and promoting an environment of creativity. Creative problem solving has been mostly tossed aside in today’s complex and high pressured world of healthcare. However, creativity may arguably be one of only ways to solve many of the challenges we see in healthcare today. At the core of what we hope to accomplish in JeffDESIGN is to empower our students to see the world around them as being malleable. If we are to fix these seemingly incurable problems in healthcare, we must first start with an understanding of the many parts that make it up. With a better grasp of the vocabulary of the architect, industrial designer, or experience designer, our graduates will be better prepared to be a part of the creation of solutions and not just subject to the solutions created by others.

That brings me to our class. We are happy to have participating, students from Pharmacy, Occupational Therapy, and Industrial Design (from Philadelphia University) along with our JeffDESIGN med students. We even have one of Jefferson’s professional Archivists joining in as well! I am very excited for the nexus of ideas that will surely come out of such a diverse group, especially when armed with a room full of awesome Ultimaker 3D printers! For day one we centered the class around the basics of 3D printing, starting off with a great overview of digital fabrication and its uses in healthcare by my co-instructor, Mikael Avery, himself an Architect and Occupational Therapist. Digital fabrication is central to many industries today however few in healthcare have ever seen a 3D printer, let alone used one. 3D printing in healthcare isn't new, however, as dentists have been using 3D printers in practice for decades.

Industrial Design student from Philadelphia University working with a Medical Student from Sidney Kimmel Medical Collage at Thomas Jefferson University

Industrial Design student from Philadelphia University working with a Medical Student from Sidney Kimmel Medical Collage at Thomas Jefferson University

The students were of course excited to get their hands on the printers, and as they started loading filament and leveling print beds, you could almost see the mysticism of this technology melt away and be replaced by sheer creative potential. It wasn’t long before one of the 7 machines had a clogged nozzle and everyone gathered around as I showed them the critical steps to troubleshooting the machines. Even that was interesting to the group, as I likened the process to a catheterization procedure for a clogged artery. It was a lot of fun and the energy in the class was great. At the end, everyone seemed excited for what was to come for the rest of the semester and already I saw conversations starting between our students about how to use the technology for other applications.

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What will the rest of the semester bring? Follow here as I will be blogging after each Design for Disability class!

Robert PuglieseComment