With the price of receiving specialized healthcare not very cost-friendly, only about 10% of the people who require assistive devices such as artificial limbs in low-and-middle-income countries have access to them. The challenge is worse in remote areas where professionals in specialized health are inescapably scarce, with more number of specialists available providing poorly fitted extensions aside from considerably expensive materials. The tragedy is more among patients using uncomfortable devices such as artificial limbs which can cause pressure wounds, skin sores, and muscle fatigue. But there’s a new hope for these patients in Madagascar, Togo, and Syria using 3D printing technology.
Humanity & Inclusion (formerly Handicap International) is reportedly using 3D printing technology to mitigate this mounting challenge. On trial in Madagascar, Togo, and Syria, the 3D printing uses a lightweight small 3D scanner to build a digital mold of limbs that have been amputated. The perfect fitting is achieved using a computer modeling software which uses all dimensions required by the patient before being sent to a 3D printer. To produce a bespoke socket, the printer creates thousands of thermoplastic layers corresponding perfectly to the shape of the amputated limb being created.
The first phase of the project trial comprise just 19 participants and the preliminary findings so far indicate that the 3D printed sockets are not only an effective alternative but safer than other socket designs, though the project is still at the early stage. The project allows patients to provide lots of input while also saving time for medical professionals. Importantly, the materials required for scanning are quite easy to use and extremely portable.
“Our hope is that this will allow our teams to reach patients in remote or dangerous places. Much further research is required before this treatment option can be offered to patients,” said Humanity & Inclusion on its news page. “But as the first clinical trials conclude, we are pleased by the positive results.”
The research is currently on its second phase and the organization’s head of rehabilitation Isabelle Urseau explained that the next trials will involve more patients in more locations for a more detailed check on the methods being used. Urseau acknowledged that 3D printing may not be the only source of providing prosthetics, but the team is looking forward to making it a great option in most circumstances.
Two industrial companies: Proteor SAS and ProsFit Technologies alongside Strathclyde University are in partnership with Humanity & Inclusion on the project. The team will be presenting full reports on the trial at the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics World Congress coming up later this year.