Dr George Frodsham of MediSieve.
When Dr Adrian Bowyer first set up the RepRap project at Bath University in 2005 his quest was to create a machine that replicated itself, a beneficial offshoot of that mission could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives. Daniel O’Connor speaks to the man using 3D printing to cure malaria.
A recent film by the Economist depicted a world in which malaria drugs stopped working; a very plausible scenario that thought leaders of the world, like Bill Gates, say could lead to insurmountable casualties. The film is set in the year 2023 but in the year 2015 it is already a very real threat with three of the five strains of the disease that affect humans resistant to antimalarials and spreading across Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar.
MediSieve, a spinout company from University College London, may just have found a solution, a 3D printed solution. Initial trials show that a 3D printed magnetic blood filter, designed by founder Dr George Frodsham, could extract up to 90 per cent of infected cells from a person with malaria in less than four hours.
Red blood cells infected with a malaria parasite have magnetic properties. This enables MediSieve’s device to capture them without affecting healthy cells. The process is similar to dialysis in that infected cells are captured as blood passes through an external loop. This in turn, quickly reduces symptoms, severity and mortality. This revolutionary device was made possible thanks to the RepRap project as Dr Frodsham explained to TCT:
“I first came to 3D printing due to a resource issue, during my PhD we had relatively little funds but a clear idea of what I wanted to do and the answer was to buy a RepRap machine. I used it to make some early prototypes in-house and it made a huge difference because it meant I was able to iterate designs and try them out for a really low cost, really quickly.
“When I was happy with the design I was able to produce the numbers I needed to run my experiment, mass manufacture is a strong word but it wasn’t far off.”
Those initial prototypes have proved so successful that the company has raised been able to raise £350,000 to fund a clinical prototype and initial safety trials for the magnetic blood filter device, and 3D printing will be used throughout the process.
“We’re still looking at using 3D printing to produce the clinical prototypes,” explained Dr Frodhsam. “But we’ll be looking towards injection moulding when we scale up to manufacturing. This is a product that we’re hoping to help hundreds of thousands of people with, with those kinds of volumes I personally don’t feel like 3D printing is the most efficient way of doing it.”
Though we’re perhaps not quite there in the mass manufacture department MediSieve’s ingenious story shows how 3D printing on a printer that costs less than £500 to assemble can have huge ramifications across the world. Dr George Frodsham has found himself becoming somewhat of a 3D printing evangelist.
“I ended up using the RepRap not only for my project but to support a number of other research groups to make early prototypes, custom experimental apparatus, adapters for microscopes. Sometimes these things costs hundreds even thousands of pounds and you can print them for basically nothing.
He continues: “It adds huge value to the product development process when you’re talking about the development of new medical devices but also as a lab tool. For me it is an essential piece of lab equipment right now, I recommend 3D printing to everybody I speak to and it is only going to get better.”