3D printing ends breast stigma

POSITIVE ROLE: A mechanical engineer uses 3D printing to create custom-designed breast-forms for women who had mastectomies. PICTURE: GETTY IMAGES

BREAST cancer is one of the leading cancers, which affect women daily across the world and in South Africa it’s the most common cancer that affects both men and women, regardless of age.

The Cancer Association of South Africa says one in four South Africans are affected by cancer.

This is why the innovation by mechanical engineer Nneile Nkholise is a welcome solution to medical science.

The 28-year-old Nkholise has listed as a priority the need to end the stigma faced by women who have had a mastectomy due to breast cancer.

In an effort to do this she has founded iMed Tech Group, a medical prosthesis design and manufacturing company. She uses 3D technology to create custom-designed breast-forms for women who have had their breasts removed due to cancer.

Nkholise, who hails from Thaba Nchu in the Free State, said she realised that women who had undergone a mastectomy did not really have an option and while developing prosthetics for limbs, she realised it would take the same process to develop a breast prosthesis.

“Our innovative business model is something that makes our business unique compared to other businesses that have done the work we do. Beyond us just creating products, we have challenged the views people have about the breast prosthesis industry and started making people aware of it.

“I am proud that we are able to educate people about the market we are in, beyond just us wanting to grow a business.” She said non-communicable diseases were at an all-time high and she was happy that she could play a positive role in helping those in need, especially women.

With her background in mechanical engineering Nkholise utilised her expertise to start her venture in designing and manufacturing affordable breast prosthetics.

“Its primary focus is in the field of medical prosthetic design and manufacturing. iMed Tech uses technology which allows for the production of high quality products that meet customer needs at impressive prices,” she said.

Nkholise said she was motivated to start her business in 2015 when she realised her idea of creating a breast prosthesis could grow beyond just being a social project. The business item stemmed from her research on the applications of additive manufacturing in the fabrication of external facial prosthetics.

“The insight I gained into the field of 3D printing, particularly the envisioned impact it would have in the medical sector, made me realise there would be a strong business case if the same technology and processes were used in the fabrication of a breast prosthesis.

“It had the potential of being a viable business with a socially-inclusive business model to ensure I do equally well while growing as a company,” she said. Nkholise gave an insight about the launch of the first breast prosthesis, the Neyne-gold range.

“The product is our standard breast prosthesis for post-mastectomy patients, the beauty of the product is the range of colours and shapes we provide, allowing women to have variety.”

Nkholise shared some wisdom for those who would want to start something like iMed Tech – just do it, but also open yourself to learning, unlearning and relearning.