AMS Spring 2023

3D Printed Sensors Developed to Aid Lupus Patients

6K SmarTech

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Researchers from the University of Minnesota are one step closer to helping millions of Lupus patients worldwide. A small team of dedicated scientists and doctors have created a 3D printed light sensing device that will be able to correlate light sensitivity to a patient’s Lupus symptoms. From the work, scientists could glean new insights into the disease and help doctors better treat Lupus all over the world. 

Light and Lupus: A Complex Relationship

Lupus affects roughly five million people worldwide, and can cause rashes, joint pain, and fatigue. This can be debilitating to the person, and research has shown their symptoms worsen when exposed to sunlight or artificial sunlight. Although they have known there was a correlation between the two, doctors have found it challenging to predict how each individual will be affected by the light. 

David Pearson, a dermatologist at the University of Minnesota’s Medical School, wanted to tackle this issue head on after working with many Lupus patients during his time in Minnesota. Seeking to better understand the correlation between light and Lupus symptoms, Pearson sought out Michael McAlpine, a professor from the university who has developed wearable medical devices in the past. 

3D Printed Light Detector

Together, Pearson and McAlpine created a 3D printed UV-visible light detector that could be placed on the skin and worn continuously throughout the day. The device is able to monitor UV-Vis exposure and correlate that exposure to a patient’s symptoms. Built using previous work from McAlpine’s group, the team was successfully able to modify a 3D printed light emitting device and convert it into a light receiving device, seen below.

The device will soon start clinical trials after its recent approval for human subject testing, and hopefully the studies give doctors insights into Lupus never before understood. The project joins a long list of others in which 3D printing is used to help better understand health and medicine. Feasibly, such devices could be printed in doctor’s offices worldwide. We can imagine a patient sitting down and, within the duration of the appointment, their doctor determining the impact of different wavelengths’ affect before printing a device personalized to them. More work will need to be done before that dream becomes a reality. However, if the University of Minnesota continues to progress like it has, we will get there. 

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