Printing’s Impact on Medicine – 3D Printable Casts & Prosthetics

Today we’re taking a look at the promising implications 3D printing has for the medical industry.

From bones healing faster to amputees walking again, 3D printing’s healing hand is not going unnoticed. Confused about how new-age printers can help patients?

Read on and we’ll explain all about it.

The Evolution of the Plaster Cast

The Cortex Cast

2013 saw the introduction of the ‘Cortex Cast’, a stylish, ventilated 3D printable cast invented by University of Wellington graduate Jake Evill.

Built in 2 or more pieces and then adjoined, the patients’ limbs can be scanned and turned into a 3D model, allowing for an accurate fit.

Currently, printers may take hours to churn out a complete plastic cast, but we can expect this time to be reduced drastically as efficiency increases in the coming years.

This experimental product will cater to individuals varying limb sizes, and in the future can be printed on site, in a hospital or clinic. The smile on a patient’s face will serve as proof of witnessing a successful marriage between medicine and technology.

Available in various colors, printable casts will grow to symbolize 3D printing’s low-key invasion into the fashion world. Expect Malta 3D Printing to blog about this shortly!

The Osteoid

A 3D printable cast known as the ‘Osteoid’ is helping to heal bones up to 80% faster. Created by Turkish design graduate Deniz Karasahin, the cast’s plastic, aerated structure allows for an ultrasound device to be attached to it – resulting in improved treatment for patients.

Bulkiness, itchiness and discomfort associated with plaster casts will become a thing of the past thanks to the Osteoid’s lattice pattern and lightweight build.

This promising invention won the ‘A’Design Award in 3D Printed Forms and Products Design in 2013. Its full name is the ‘Osteoid Medical Cast, Attachable Bone Stimulator’, but we prefer the ‘Osteoid.’

The wires attached to the plastic frame (see picture above) allow for the healing pulse to be sent to the desired area, sending ultrasound waves at the touch of a button.

With a single 20 minute daily session, the Osteoid can potentially improve healing rates by up to 80% in non-union fractures, and up to 38% in other fractures.

The Osteoid is made out of ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), a popular thermoplastic with 3D printing vendors, household goods and food containers. While it may seem like a simple design, the precise location of each air space is algorithmically calculated, and the locking mechanism (see picture below) may vary in location from case to case.

Both the aforementioned models are more expensive than present day remedies, but offer localized healing, water-resistance, and a higher standard of environmental sustainability and aesthetics.

We can only imagine a little girl with a broken hand looking up at a doctor, smiling as she tries on her cast in her favourite colour. Small details can go a long way!
Once 3D printing successfully infiltrates hospitals worldwide, expect to see a myriad of patients with casts in blue, red, yellow green and more!

3D Printable Prosthetics

According to statistics collected in 2008, there are approximately10 million people across the world living with amputations (arm, elbow, shoulder, leg, knee etc.).

Unfortunately, only a select few can even afford prosthetic limbs, as a large percentage of amputees live in developing countries.

Skeptical about 3D printing’s global influence? Well, it’s a good thing Malta 3D Printing‘s here.

Miracles are already happening throughout the 3D printing world. Patrice Johnson, using a $500,000 3D printer owned by Ex-One, began printing prosthetic arms and lending a helping hand to people in less fortunate parts of the world.

“Right on the border of Burma and Thailand, there are landmines like you wouldn’t believe,” Johnson said in an interview with The Atlantic.

Bravely venturing to Burma equipped with two 3D printed prosthetic arms, Johnson donated the artificial limbs and had the two lucky patients feeling comfortable within half an hour.

It’s not all blue skies, however, as Johnson points out that the main issue with 3D printed limbs lies in the attachment.  It must successfully connect to both soft tissue and bone without damaging either, whilst providing an adequate range of motion for the patient.

Luckily, one of 3D printing’s many strengths can solve this problem. Due to the extreme level of detail 3D scanners and printers can achieve, a full scan of a patient’s intact limb would result in a precise 3D replica – one that post-print would be expected to be an exact fit on the damaged limb.

A prime example of an artificial 3D printed limb is the ‘Jaipurknee’. Pictured in the image above, the Jaipurknee claims to be one-tenth the cost of a traditional polycentric knee joint and is built to last between 3-5 years.

With 3D printers firing on all cylinders across the globe, the number of amputees could be drastically reduced within the coming years, as people gain access to cheaper, more efficient means of limb replacement.
The team behind Malta 3D Printing have nothing but respect for these life-changing inventions.