How 3D printing is helping 1000 breast cancer survivors


There’s a new intervention in the fight against cancer. Thanks to 3D printing, South African survivors can reconstruct their bodies and lives. Nneile Nkholise is a mechanical engineering technologist who works with prosthetic design and manufacturing to ease the trauma felt by breast cancer and mastectomy patients by creating artificial breast forms. Her current goal is to supply 1 000 prostheses to 1 000 women who cannot afford it. By making quality replacements at a lower cost, she’s changing the face of medical technology.

Nkholise is the founder of iMedTech Group, a company in Thaba Nchu that uses Additive Manufacturing to fabricate prostheses by adding material in layers with 3D modeling software and layering material. The idea came from Nkholise’s studies in Mechanical Engineering at the Central University of Technology. During her Master’s research, she discovered that the same processes used for burn victims and patients with facial deformations could also benefit those who have undergone a mastectomy. Her commitment to solving social challenges using emerging technology extends to the field of education. The social entrepreneur also uses 3D printers to create the components for a game she developed, Minute Words, which makes vocabulary building fun for primary school students.

Being a minority in these fields is not easy, but Nkholise is determined to carve a space for others like her to thrive. The iMed Tech Group primarily employs African women under the age of 30 who have mechanical engineering research experience. These technologists have the chance to develop as Nkholise has done. She represented her country at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in San Francisco and was recognised as one of Africa’s top female innovators at the World Economic Forum last year. A feature in Forbes Africa Woman magazine and participation in the Discovery MedTech Silicon-Valley programme and Tony Elumelu Foundation add to her accolades. Her success within the medical science field shows what women from small towns are capable of. Nkholise is changing the perception that technological advancement can only be made by those in first-world spaces.