Homecoming: Origami Concepts Used in Healthcare


Papercraft has its roots in many ancient civilizations, but in modern times it has become increasingly associated with the Japanese as they have embraced it in many facets of their lives.

In fact, two of the most popular forms of Japanese papercraft are origami and kirigami.

Both involve folding a flat sheet of paper into a structure, but origami, unlike kirigami, does not involve any cuts, glue, or marks on the paper.

For the sake of brevity, these two forms of crafts will collectively be referred to as origami in this article.

The act of folding occurred long before the invention of modern paper, perhaps dating back to the traceable past when our ancestors began to use leaf as a drinking tool by folding it into a simple wooden structure. cone shape.

The science and art of folding began when modern paper was invented in China around 200 BC during the Han Dynasty.

Today, with advances in the science of paper folding, mathematical/technical origami has enabled the development of technologies never before imagined.

Cutting-edge architectures with intriguing aesthetics have sprung up around the world over the past five decades, inspired by this ancient art form of paper folding.

The most powerful space telescope ever launched by mankind, the James Webb Space Telescope is nicknamed the Origami Telescope because of its collapsible primary mirrors and solar sail.

The James Webb Space Telescope is nicknamed the origami telescope because of its foldable properties. —AFP

Face masks and more

In recent years, technical origami has found its place in the medical field due to its deployable and reconfigurable properties.

Probably the most striking example of this is the emergence of origami face masks during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The origami tessellation structure used to design the surface of the mask is a brilliant idea as it increases the total surface area, thus improving its breathability.

In the 1970s, before the invention of the surgically deployable origami stent, undergoing coronary bypass surgery or angioplasty carried a substantial risk of complications.

With advances in materials science and stent design, angioplasty has become a relatively safe procedure today.

Technical origami has also accelerated the development of the fields of biomedical sciences and genetic engineering, particularly in protein sequencing for vaccine creation and scaffolded DNA origami storage structure for localized delivery systems. of drugs.

To understand how origami plays a role in protein sequencing, you need to know that proteins, made up of chains of amino acids that are the essential building blocks of life, can only function if they are correctly folded into a series of specific codes (triplet nucleotide sequences called codons) in the form of amino acids.

These “codes” namely A, T (DNA) or U (RNA), G and C will determine the type of amino acids formed and therefore will determine the folding in the secondary, tertiary or quaternary structures of the functional proteins.

Protein folds are extremely important as they will determine the functionality of proteins so that they can function in the complex biological processes or mechanisms of the human body.

Origami has inspired many artistic and architectural installations.  — Photos: FilepicOrigami has inspired many artistic and architectural installations. — Photos: Filepic

How the structure works

Misfolded groups of amino acids produce non-functional proteins that could interfere with the normal functioning of the body.

These groups of non-functional proteins are known as proteinopathies, which in turn could cause neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

By carefully studying the folding patterns of proteinopathies (similar to folding patterns in origami) and folded structures, therapeutics could be developed for these diseases.

Similarly, by looking at the weak spots of a virus, scientists try to grow folded protein structures that are complementary to the virus, so that when bound to the virus, the origami protein could disable invading cells of the virus. and lock the virus in its inactive stage.

With this, the virus could then be hijacked instead of harming normal cells and inflicting further damage on the body.

To understand the working principle of a scaffolded DNA origami storage structure, think about folding specific DNA structure codes to represent the box and other specific codes to represent the lid of the box.

A strand of DNA keeps the lid closed while a separate DNA “key” will open it.

With this box-lid structure, drugs could be stored and then later released when triggered.

It is therefore crucial to have basic knowledge about the science of origami to apply it in the medical field and drug discovery research.

Small wonder

Origami technology has also been adopted to make unmanageable origami robots by a team of researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA.

The challenge of making minimally invasive unmanageable robots is selecting the appropriate material and folding pattern.

It should be folded small enough to fit in a capsule and when unfolded it should be stiff enough to serve its purpose.

The little origami robot made from dried pig intestines is about the size of a capsule and has a magnet built into it.

Once the unmanageable origami robot is swallowed, it can be unfolded to remove foreign bodies.

It could also be used to dress wounds in a minimally invasive procedure.

Going down further to the microscopic scale, researchers at Brigham Young University, USA, have developed nano-injection mechanisms using an origami-like mechanism that could inject DNA materials into cells for transgenic research and gene therapy.

Current micro-injection needles are too large to be injected into the cell without damaging it.

By incorporating a collapsible lance, the microelectromechanical system is 10 times smaller than the current injection microneedle.

This effectively enables the transport of DNA materials into a cell without damaging it.It may sound simple, but paper folding is an art and a science.It may sound simple, but paper folding is an art and a science.

Unique test methods

The importance of employing paper folding activities as a tool to improve an individual’s spatial reasoning and psychomotor skills is also strongly emphasized.

Believe it or not, origami has also been adopted by some companies to screen potential candidates and to improve their skills.

For example, the Japanese space agency JAXA used folding 1,000 paper cranes as one of the tests for candidates for its astronaut program.

Some developed countries have also incorporated the science of origami into their math and geometry curriculum for primary and secondary schools.

To enable students to understand and appreciate the delicate relationship between the forms and functions of living organisms, some universities are also slowly blending into the science of origami to conduct their tutorials and practical sessions, especially those involving biology lessons related to DNA and protein structures.

Even renowned universities like MIT and Harvard offer specialized courses in bending science.

A Japanese hospital that offers one of the best surgical internship programs has even devised an innovative review process that involves miniature origami instead of testing interns on their surgical skills on real patients.

These origami tests might seem strange to any medical institution, but the science of origami was incorporated for a reason – all of them require an incredible amount of concentration, coordination, the ability to work under pressure, and a pair steady hands.

These are undoubtedly some of the invaluable qualities for any successful surgeon.

With current advancements in medical science and manufacturing or materials technology, we are indeed witnessing a range of innovative products being invented or inspired by incorporating origami techniques and concepts.

Over the past decade, the powerful discovery of folding science has linked not only medical science per se, but also string theory and quantum physics to the fundamentals of folding.

As we move towards Industry 5.0 and beyond, many more origami-enabled technologies will emerge and change future landscapes, especially in the field of biomedical health sciences.

Dr. Lee Tze Yan is a lecturer and researcher in the field of molecular medicine at the School of Liberal Arts, Science and Technology, Perdana University, while Kenneth Ch’ng is the founder of Malaysia Origami Association, Malaysia Origami Academy and pioneer Malaysia Origami. Movement. This article is courtesy of Perdana University. For more information, email [email protected] The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and should not be construed as personal medical advice. The information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant, or supplement consultation with a medical professional regarding the reader’s medical care. The star disclaims all liability for loss, property damage or bodily injury suffered directly or indirectly as a result of reliance on this information.


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