Ever heard of 3D printing of artificial limbs? Well, the Christian Blind Mission (CBM) a Canadian charity, is making this limbs to better the lives of many disabled people in the northeastern part of the country.
To achieve this, CBM has partnered with researchers researchers from the University of Toronto and Autodesk, a 3D-design company, to make cheap, customized 3D-printed prosthetic limbs for children.
The charity administers this service at the Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services hospital in Uganda (CoRSU), a specialized health facility for children with disabilities in Kampala.
Before the adoption of this technology, the process of making prosthetic limbs was manual and time-consuming. It involves using plaster of paris that is wrapped around a plastic mould, then waiting for it to dry and harden. After it dries, the plaster is used as a negative cast to make a positive cast of a limb. Then a socket is molded around the positive cast before it is ready for use.
“This method is labour-intensive. Patients will typically wait for at least one week before they can get an artificial limb. Another problem with using this method is that it often results in ill-fitting sockets, which cause discomfort for users,” said Mitch Wilkie, the director of international programmes at CBM, “Using a 3D-print, on the other hand, allows for a quick scan to digitize the limb. In less than a minute, the computer can capture a 3D image of the patients’ residual limb. This image can then be manipulated by the prosthetic technician to recreate a 3D image within a computer interface, a process that takes just about 30 minutes.”
He continue to explain that after the 3D image is made, the image is then exported to a 3D printer, which can produce the socket in about three hours.This means that it take just a day to make the limb.
Prof Matt Rato from the University of Toronto, the principal investigator for the 3D project, says the ultimate goal of shifting to 3D-printed limbs is to speed up the process through which prosthetic limbs are made across the world.
“We want to shorten the time to one or two days. With newly available, inexpensive 3D scanning technologies, it is possible to recreate the manual process within a digital environment,” he said.
Limb amputations, especially in developing countries are largely attributed to the effects of landmines in conflict or former conflict areas, severe bone infections, accidents and birth defects. This has led to an increase in demand for prosthetic limbs, while manpower to deal with the problem remains a challenge.