Mechanical engineering technologist, Nneile Nkholise, is helping breast cancer survivors who underwent a mastectomy by creating 3D printed artificial breasts through her med-tech startup, the iMed Tech Group.
While completing her Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at the Central University of Technology (CUT), Nkholise founded the iMed Tech Group based on her research on the applications of Additive Manufacturing (AM), a process based on 3D printing, in fabricating medical prosthesis at a far cheaper and quicker rate than traditional production methods.
“I realised how the demand for prostheses is so high while the current methods for manufacturing them couldn’t meet these demands. Hence, I decided to start a company to meet this challenge. I believe that there is a huge gap between academics and business because many of our research findings are never exposed for commercialisation. I saw the need to take my research findings to the market,” said Nkholise in an interview with Levers in Heels, a website dedicated to promoting African women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
With an initial focus on creating prostheses for burn victims and patients with facial deformities, Nkholise realised that the same process could be used to create artificial breasts from bio-compatible silicone elastomer to help women reconstruct their bodies after undergoing a mastectomy.
Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer among South African women. According to CANSA, proximately 19.4 million South African women aged 15 years and older are at risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
To help cancer survivors who are unable to afford breast prostheses, Nkholise has initiated a campaign to supply 1,000 prostheses to 1,000 low-income women.
Through the iMed Tech Group, Nkholise employs primarily young African women who have an interest in and experience in mechanical engineering like herself. In her short career, Nkholise has made a name for herself through her work and has been recognised as one of Africa’s top female innovators at the World Economic Forum in 2016. She also successfully competed in the Discovery MedTech Silicon-Valley programme around her work in 3D modelling.