Breakthrough cannabis inhaler weds medical tech, 3D printing

The made-in-Israel Syqe device may help make the use of medical marijuana widespread

The Syqe Inhaler (Photo credit: Courtesy)
The Syqe Inhaler (Photo credit: Courtesy)

It’s been called the breakthrough the medical marijuana industry has been waiting for, a technology that will bring widespread use of cannabis for pain relief to hospitals all over the world.

But most people who have heard of the Syqe Inhaler, a medical inhaler that provides just the right dose for patients, don’t know that it was developed in Israel, and they also don’t know that Israeli-US 3D printing tech firm Stratasys has been essential to the development of the project.

“The Syqe device was created on a 3D printer using different kinds of materials, both rigid and flexible, to create a unique material that you could not get in the typical manufacturing process,” said Ronny Eden, director of 3D printing technologies for Su-Pad, the exclusive retail distributor for Stratasys printers in Israel. “The material gives a unique combination of flexibility and rigidity needed for the proper functioning of the inhaler.”

Eden was speaking at BioMed 2015 event, an event that drew hundreds of industry executives, scientists and engineers, with thousands of attendees from over 45 countries. Hundreds of Israeli life science companies presented and exhibited their products, services and technologies.

The Syqe inhaler has been lauded by the media, medical industry experts, and government officials as a major advancement in medical marijuana technology. According to industry publication Journal of Pain & Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy, the Syqe Inhaler, “ a delivery system for medical cannabis that is effective, stable, safe and easy to use,” may be what legitimizes medical marijuana in the eyes of the insurance industry, government, and medical administrators.

The device uses sensors to determine what dose to release and gives doctors full ability to supervise the medical marijuana process.

The inventors of the device, said Eden, decided to use 3D printing technology to develop prototypes and initial working models, “because 3D saves so much time.”

Traditionally, when a company – whether it makes medical devices, car parts, or toys – wants to mass-manufacture items, it builds a prototype which is usually made of metal and/or plastic parts. Building a flexible prototype is difficult, and usually it takes months to “translate” between an initial prototype and a final manufacturing design.

“With a Stratasys 3D printer, they were able to print out a prototype in the morning and have a complete model when they returned from lunch,” said Eden.

Because the technology is new, a lot of experimentation was needed – and that would not have been possible without 3D technology, said Eden.

Model of a human skull printed on a 3D printer (Photo credit: Courtesy
Model of a human skull printed on a 3D printer (Photo credit: Courtesy

The Syqe device is just one example of the application of 3D printing to the medical industry. On display at Biomed, for example, was a 3D rendition of a human skull produced by a Stratasys printer. The skull, which was rendered by special software that scanned the head of a subject, is being used at Rambam Hospital in Haifa to let doctors practice brain procedures using as real a facsimile of the human head as possible, without the human. The printed skull has elements of rigidity and flexibility similar to that of a human skull, and can be “stuffed” with a model of a brain or other elements to allow doctors a full “brain experience.”

Stratasys, a US firm that merged with Israel’s Objet in 2012, was a pioneer in the medical 3D field, using 3D printing for digital dentistry that allows dentists to produce models, dentures, braces, and implants with 3D technology. They are thus able to forgo the gooey pastes and gels that are traditionally used to make molds and models.The Israeli lab has been producing products such as Veroglaze, used by dentists to print crowns, bridge restorations, diagnostic wax-ups, and other tooth-related objects.

Model of a human heart printed on a 3D printer (Photo credit: Courtesy
Model of a human heart printed on a 3D printer (Photo credit: Courtesy

It’s a boon for all sorts of dentistry applications, such as orthodontics, said Avi Cohen, Stratasys’ director of Global Dental. Orthodontists, he said, “keep the original (or ’before’) impressions for each patient for several years — five to nine, depending on location. For orthodontic practices of any size, this can create a huge storage problem since all those physical models need a home. But with digital files, they are stored electronically and models can be 3D printed on demand if necessary.”

The Syqe people are using the same strategy, said Eden – and it’s paying off. “If they had gone the traditional route of building prototypes, it would have taken them months to get off the ground, and for a start-up that’s next to impossible. Everyone who has seen this device has been very impressed, and we’re proud to be associated with them.”

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