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     October 2018 eupdate_landing page_3D printing

What's the BIG idea?
Thinking in 3D at the Alberta Children’s Hospital


An innovative pilot project is taking shape at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, thanks to generous support from our community. A new initiative called the 3D Printing Challenge is harnessing the power of 3D printing to improve healthcare for kids. Using crowd-sourcing software, the 3D Printing project challenges hospital clinicians, frontline staff, patients and families, as well as the community at large, to think up ideas that could be 3D printed to enhance the hospital experience for kids.

It’s been said, if you can draw it, you can 3D print it. “Printing” a 3D object is achieved by depositing materials layer by layer to replicate the item’s digital likeness. The process turns a whole object into thousands of tiny little slices, then builds it from the bottom-up, slice by slice. Those tiny layers stick together to form a solid object. The technology allows experts to create and test prototypes in a relatively quick and cost-effective way. While 3D printing has been around for several years, its use in pediatric medicine has been limited. Experts at the Alberta Children’s Hospital are hoping to change that.

Dr. Vince Grant is a Pediatric Emergency Physician and Medical Director of the KidSIM Simulation Program at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. After seeing the potential of 3D printing programs while visiting hospitals in Boston and Paris, Dr. Grant was inspired to explore ways to implement the technology here at home. He says 3D printing is much more than the latest technological fad – rather it is an untapped tool to help move healthcare for kids forward. October 2018 eupdate_3D printing_green printing

“Everyone is very innovative at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. We continually ask ourselves, ‘how do we up our game?’ How can we truly make a difference in a child’s life in a way we’ve never been able to do before?” says Dr. Grant. “We’re grateful to live in a community that allows us to always be thinking of ways to raise the standard of care. The possibilities with 3D printing are endless. We really wanted to open this challenge up to everyone to see just how far we could take it.”  

As Director of the hospital’s simulation program, Dr. Grant sees 3D printing as a new and affordable way to create valuable custom training and education tools.

“Intubating a baby with a tiny airway is one of the most difficult procedures we do. And while we practice our skills regularly, the hi-fidelity mannequins we use have standard airways,” says Dr. Grant. “If we had a baby with a specific anatomic abnormality, and if we could print models of newborns with the same type of complicated anatomy to practice on, it would be as close as you could get to practicing the real procedure. And when you consider what’s at stake, that extra experience would be invaluable.”

And that’s just one example. While 3D printing holds great potential as a valuable training and education tool, experts say the clinical applications, such as printing prosthetic hands or limbs, corneas or bones will gradually become more main stream.

Sometimes the smallest ideas have the biggest impact.

“You never know where the next big idea is going to come from,” says Dr. Grant. “That’s why we really wanted to open this challenge up to everyone at the hospital but also in our community. It’s not always about finding a medical breakthrough. Sometimes is as simple as making life a little easier for someone.”

Maya Pajevic is a big advocate for the 3D Printing Challenge. She has been a long-time patient of the Alberta Children’s Hospital, arriving here over 16 years ago after suffering a stroke.

“I spent almost seven months recovering at the Hospital after my stroke,” says Maya. “I had to learn to walk, eat and talk all over again.”

Maya looks back now and sees where 3D printing could have made an impact on her recovery.

“I lost almost all mobility with my right hand, and it would have been really beneficial to have customized therapy toys that encouraged me to use my right hand more,” adds Maya. “It took me several years to learn how to put on and zip up my coat – 3D printing could have solved this with a simple tool that would have helped.”

Now, Maya is helping promote the 3D Printing Challenge to the community while sharing her story. She has been encouraging her friends and family to submit at least one idea a day.

“The sky’s the limit with this challenge. We can revolutionize how healthcare is provided to kids.”

Organizers for the 3D Printing Challenge encourage ideas that are simple to implement and use, and have the ability to impact a large number of people in our community. The Challenge runs until October 31st. If you have an idea or design you’d like to submit, please visit The top three ideas will be chosen, printed and implemented.

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