Creative adaptation brings an innovative solution to a common physical challenge

August 21, 2017

Melanie Johnston started out pursuing a career in pharmacy and part way through her degree found herself more drawn to working hands-on with patients.  She switched over to studying medicine and is now in her 3rd year at Memorial University.

Melanie was initially inspired to participate in Joule’s 3D Print Challenge because it unearthed an experience she had a few years earlier. During the first year of her pharmacy degree she volunteered at Camp Hill Veterans Memorial Hospital in the Recreation Therapy division. She found that many of the patients that she was working with had swallowing difficulties and she saw firsthand how badly this impacted their quality of life. She also became familiar with the struggle the hospital staff had to accommodate these types of patient challenges. 

Melanie connected this experience with the 3D print challenge and was enthused by the opportunity to provide a solution to a problem she witnessed while volunteering and excited about the chance to contribute to the world of medical innovation. She saw the meaningful impact she could have if she designed a solution to a real-life healthcare issue.

Melanie’s winning concept was a 3D printed mug with flow control settings for patients with swallowing difficulties. Her vision was to create a low-cost, customizable Assisted Living Device (ALD) for people with this issue.

Melanie’s design is a sip-type cup made of three different pieces. The top lid of the cup, which is a screw fit top for a tight seal, has five different flow settings. Melanie provided the design drawing which was developed into an initial prototype by Joule.  She worked closely with Joule through the process to tweak the design and to make it as practical as possible. Melanie looks forward to continuing in the design process and to taking it through to the next stage of refinement.

Melanie sees 3D printing as being an invaluable technology with great potential for ALDs in particular.   She envisions adapting the cup design to include additions such as customizable handles for patients who have difficulty grasping, or a pediatric top with smaller flow settings for young children and infants.

“With the implementation of this product we can make a significant impact in centers that have patient populations in need of ALDs. Being able to customize the product for patients and print on-site is a cost-effective solution and one that I’m thrilled to have contributed to.” says Melanie.

Joule is proud to have encouraged these medical students to step outside of their comfort zone and explore ways to optimize processes and create tools to better care for patients, not only in Canada but around the world.