- The Washington Times - Friday, August 14, 2015

A Palestinian-Canadian doctor said his team has made a 3-D printed stethoscope that works better than any he’s seen in Western hospitals.

With production costing mere pennies, Dr. Tarek Loubani wants hackers to help him design other open source instruments in hopes of revolutionizing health care.

“This stethoscope is as good as any stethoscope out there in the world, and we have the data to prove it,” Dr. Loubani, an emergency surgeon and educator who has worked in both Ontario and the Gaza Strip, told attendees Thursday at the Chaos Communication Camp near Berlin

Dr. Loubani said he didn’t know much about 3-D printers before he started working with them. But after some trial and error and the help of some experts, he found that using the increasingly ubiquitous technology and about 30 cents worth of plastic filament can produce stethoscope heads that rival the $200 instruments that hang in most hospitals.

It was during a visit to the war-torn Gaza Strip in 2012 that Dr. Loubani said he found himself practicing 19th-century methods, including placing his ear on patients’ chests to try and hear their heartbeats. He was working in a medical center littered with bodies, he recalled, but not a single good stethoscope was in sight.

Once back home, he picked up a toy stethoscope belonging to his nephew and was impressed by how well it could detect sound, even for a plastic plaything. Realizing the potential, he logged online and began asking in chat rooms for help designing blueprints.

Following a few initial failures, Dr. Loubani said his small team soon had a 3-D printer file on its hands that worked flawlessly. In Palestine, he said, acquiring a stethoscope is now as easy as loading up the design and hitting “print.” There’s a rich economy of people in Gaza who gather plastic, he added, then grind their findings into chips and use the final product to make a filament that can be fed into 3-D printers.

The design file for the stethoscope is available online for free and can be downloaded and printed from anywhere.

Dr. Loubani is now trying to find ways to replicate other medical devices with little more than open source code and recycled plastic. 3-D printers, meanwhile, have gone in a few short years from being an expensive pieces of equipment to more affordable and available than ever.

He and his colleagues are currently working on a 3-D printable pulse oximeter, a machine that measures the oxygen levels in blood, and an electrocardiogram.

Next, he hopes to perfect the designs for a dialysis machine — and he wants the hacker community to lend a hand.

“What we want to do is we want to take these devices, one by one, and do for them what initially started to be done for software when the free software movement began,” he said, referring to an ethos linked to hacker culture which advocates for letting anyone view, change and share the source code that powers a program.

Just as free software has given developers the ability to improve upon and spread technology, designing 3-D printable medical devices could replace the costly and closed proprietary options available today, Dr. Loubani said.

“You know the technology and, more importantly, because I’ve met some brilliant engineers, you understand the politics,” he told the crowd. “What I want is not the best devices. What I want is the best devices that are also free. And with your help we can make that happen.”

The Chaos Communication Camp, a hacker meetup organized by Germany’s Chaos Computer Club, continues through this weekend.

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