The Central University of Technology (CUT) in the Free State has been awarded for advancing the use of 3D printing, or additive-manufacturing (AM) technology, in healthcare.

The university’s Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing (CRPM) was recently awarded a Research Chair in Medical Product Development, an initiative led by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), to increase the research output and innovation in areas that are considered essential to the country’s strategic growth and development.

The South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) aims to increase scientific research capacity and innovations in the country’s public universities.

“Innovation in 3D printing in healthcare has the potential to restore the quality of life of people, particularly those with severe facial disfigurements as result of cancerous tumours or injury,” said the DST in a statement.

To date CUT has conducted medical procedures involving 3D printing on 12 patients, including two patients who received 3D printed titanium mandible implants at the Kimberley Hospital in the Northern Cape last year.

Leader of the CUT research chair, Prof Yadroitsau, said the Centre was also focusing on contributing to medical equipment development through the design of innovative devices and production through new AM techniques, in combination with conventional machining techniques.

“AM makes designs possible that conventional methods cannot achieve, so we are definitely going to look into medical equipment development under this research objective, with an emphasis on disabled patient assistive devices,” said Prof Yadroitsau.

Speaking at the launch, the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, said the CUT Research Chair in Medical Product Development would have a positive impact on research as a whole, and that more research projects would run concurrently to help strengthen knowledge and technological know-how in complementary research infrastructure.

Over R471 million from the department’s annual budget was allocated to the SARChI for this year.

“I am particularly pleased that CUT is taking the lead in innovations that will change the face of medical science in South Africa. The CRPM stands proudly at the forefront of innovation in this field,” concluded CUT Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Thandwa Mthembu.

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