Posted on March 19, 2018 by staff

How 3D-printed brains teach young people about mental health


An ex-NHS therapist is using the latest technology to teach young people about the inner workings of the brain.

Naomi Mwasambili set up Chanua Health in 2015 with business partner Megan Charles. The pair have a background in clinical and psychological therapy and were frustrated that the services they saw being offered weren’t fun and engaging for young people.

“Being 15 now is very different now [to how it used to be],”  Mwasambili, 33, told BusinessCloud. “How information is retained, how you learn and how messages are spread are very different.

“If you’ve experienced trauma – particularly in your teenage years – this is when you’ve got the fastest development in your frontal lobe. Your brain is changing a lot.”

Mwasambili says that in traditional therapy training you don’t learn about the brain – and she wanted to change that using tech.

Chanua, based in Liverpool’s Sensor City, aims to make the therapy process more fun and engaging with videos and animations, virtual experiences and 3D-printed products.

“3D printing in healthcare has been specifically focused in surgery. What we are doing is thinking about how you can use technology, like 3D printers, to make it more accessible,” she said.

“Being here at Sensor City has allowed us to prototype and build a 3D-printed brain that can serve as an educational resource for learning about its growth structures.

“We can show how different mental health problems like trauma and anxiety affect the brain. In the future, it might also help with dementia or brain injury.”

Mwasambili was nominated in the One to Watch category at the Northern Power Women Awards recently.

The business is also delving into augmented reality to allow young people to experience in even more detail how the different areas of their own brains function.

“We couldn’t print out the brain in the detail we wanted in order to learn about the internal sections. Using augmented reality allows us to pull out parts so people can learn about the brain in more detail,” she said.

The director has handed over the some of the reigns to these young people with its young leaders programme.

Commissioned by the local city council and funded by the Wellcome Trust, the ‘Neuro Champions’ initiative headed up by Mwasambili and Charles allows young people to use modern tools to create their own products and share messages with their peers.