Researchers at the University of Western Ontario have produced a freely available template for 3D printing a functioning stethoscope from the same plastic used to make garden chairs.
The modern stethoscope is a simple but essential clinical tool, enabling the detection of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions merely by listening to sounds within the body.
It can be used to listen to the heart beat, air entering the lungs and blood coursing through blood vessels. It is therefore a relatively inexpensive tool that allows a physician to make life-saving decisions
However, cost still represents a significant barrier to stethoscope use in low- and middle-income countries. Although the stethoscope has not changed significantly for several decades, it still carries a price tag of several hundred US dollars.
It was recently reported that acoustic quality did not varying much between brands of wide-ranging costs. This inspired researchers to develop a stethoscope that provided quality clinical assessments whilst being affordable to all physicians, irrespective of the level of available resources.
The result of their research is a clinically validated template for a 3D printed stethoscope that can be freely accessed from the internet using free software. The stethoscope, named Glia, can be produced with a 3D printer in less than three hours using recycled ABS plastic, which is used to produced garden furniture.
The resultant product costs only $3, making it readily accessible to physicians with limited access to medical supplies. The Glia has been clinically validated, so function has not been compromised to achieve the tremendous cost reduction. Indeed, the acoustic quality of the Glia stethoscope was found to be the same as that of a premium brand stethoscope.
Dr Tarek Loubani, associate professor at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and associate scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute commented "As far as we know this is the first open-source medical device that has been clinically validated and is widely available".
The Glia stethoscope is already being used in clinical practice by physicians and allied health professionals in Gaza, Israel.
The team is now working to create templates for other medical devices that can be made or enhanced on-site in locations with scarce resources.
Use of the open source approach in every aspect of this project contributes powerfully to the body of medical device research...This research gives a guide for others to create medical-grade open access devices that can reduce costs and ultimately save lives".
Gabriella Coleman, Technology and Open source Software Scholar