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Friday, May 26, 2017

Hack Your Pancreas and 3D-Print Your Smile

Young inventors and entrepreneurs are using the open-source model to transform health care from the ground-up.


The more government involves itself in health care, the harder it becomes to find quality services at affordable prices. As the state has inserted itself more heavily into the health sector over the last several years, many Americans are left searching for alternatives to traditional services.

Dudley used a 3D printer to produce his own low-cost retainers. 

Luckily, as technology continues to advance far beyond anything our grandparents thought possible, health care itself is becoming more decentralized as individuals are now able to take personal control over their medical decisions. 

While older generations may be content to wait on others to improve existing services, millennials are too impatient to let others change the world without taking an active role.

As America’s favorite scapegoat, the country’s youth is constantly being accosted for not caring enough about our futures and specifically, for lack of desire when it comes to buying health insurance. Proponents of nationalized health care will say just about anything to convince young Americans to buy insurance policies we have no interest in purchasing. But while we may not be purchasing health care premiums, millennials are doing something no other generation has done before: open-sourcing health care.  

3D Print a Perfect Smile

Just last year, college student Amos Dudley was making headlines after he utilized his campus’ 3D printer in order to make his own orthodontic retainers. Unsatisfied with the appearance of his own teeth but unable to afford braces, which can cost several thousand dollars, Dudley spent his free time researching various methods of straightening teeth and applied that knowledge as he designed and 3D-printed several “invisible” retainers for his own use.

In a blog post on his personal website titled, Orthoprint, or How I Open-Sourced My Face, Dudley explains how he was inspired to take the appearance of his smile into his own hands.  

Open-sourcing has allowed 250 patients to access and use Lewis’ artificial pancreas.

“What if you had a chance to save money, make yourself happier, and stick it to the dental appliance industry, all in one shot?” Dudley’s blog post begins. Feeling as self-conscious as most young adults feel, Dudley was resolved to do something about his teeth but, as he puts it, “At the time of writing this, I’m an undergrad, which means that a) I’m broke, and b) I have access to expensive digital fabrication tools – definitely an unusual dichotomy.”

Utilizing his school’s equipment along with two essential books, Contemporary Orthodontics (5e) by William Proffit DDS, PhD, and Orthodontics at a Glance by Gill Daljit., he was able to correct his own teeth with minimal production costs.

But Dudley isn’t the only young American who is open-sourcing the health care industry.

Health In Your Hands

Alabama resident Dana Lewis’ inspiration for designing and manufacturing artificial pancreases was born out of her own struggle with type 1 diabetes.

Millennials are taking the lead on health care innovation.

Since diabetes patients do not enjoy a fully functioning pancreas, which helps produce and regulate the flow of insulin throughout the body, the trick is finding some sort of device that automatically monitors the levels of blood sugar in the body and then adjusts the insulin administered. As of now, nothing on the market or available through a physician is able to adequately perform the tasks of a real pancreas, which has caused many diabetes patients to take their health in their own hands.  

Since there has been general dissatisfaction with the blood sugar monitors available to consumers, there have been previous attempts to open-source better products. Through the creation of smartphone apps that serve as alarms, these apps are meant to wake the diabetes patient up during the night when insulin levels typically drop.

While these were better than those on the market, they were still not getting the job done well enough. Which is why Dana and her husband had to ask the question:

“What else could we do?”

Dana and her husband utilized what is known as a Raspberry Pi minicomputer, an already existing medical device, and developed their own software codes that monitor blood sugar levels and adjust the amount of insulin delivered accordingly.

Thrilled by its success, the Lewises decided to offer the software code online to other diabetes patients for free. Supporters of Lewis began using the hashtag #Wearenotwaiting to express their dissatisfaction with the lengthy medical device approval process that prevents patients from getting the care they need. The “OpenAPS,” as Lewis named her artificial pancreas, was an instant success from the moment it debuted online.

By allowing others to have the software codes, over 250 diabetes patients have been able to utilize the Lewis’ innovative design. Lewis explained:

“Patients are changing the innovation pipeline. These technologies have to be ready faster.”

Which is exactly why millennials are taking the lead on health care innovation. Unwilling to sit still and gifted with tech-savvy skills, young people are using technology to become more self-sufficient and less dependent on government-riddled services.


  • Brittany is a writer for the Pacific Legal Foundation. She is a co-host of “The Way The World Works,” a Tuttle Twins podcast for families.