Jan.13, 2014

A University of Toronto lab is partnering with an international NGO and a Ugandan hospital to use 3D scanning and printing to speed the process of creating and fitting sockets for artificial limbs.

Thanks to 3D printing, high quality prosthetic limbs are easier to obtain than ever before. Traditional assessing and fitting procedures take many days or weeks, and require specialized knowledge of an on-site prosthetic technician. But many developing countries don't have enough technicians.

"The major issue with prosthetics in the developing world is not access to the materials of prosthetics; it is access to the expert knowledge required to form and create them," says Matt Ratto, Director of the University of Toronto's Critical Making Lab. "We're lacking prosthetic technicians, not prosthetics themselves."

Prof. Matt Ratto holds a conventional prosthetic socket (left) and one his lab printed (Image Credit: Ginger Coons)

Through this international collaboration, a 3-D scan of a Ugandan's residual limb can be sent within seconds to another part of the world where a prosthetist can digitally design a replacement, sending that file back to Africa to be printed. Local doctors are able to make a prosthesis in less than 24 hours.

For many Ugandans, speed is more than a matter of convenience; it's the difference between getting a prosthetic limb or not. "The underserved population is largely rural," said Ginger Coons, a PhD student in Ratto's lab. "People have to come to the hospital. Not many can afford the long stay. We want to make their stay a lot shorter."

Ratto and Coons hope that similar solutions could be developed in other parts of the world.

Their research also raises questions: Who owns the scan of the patient's body and the digital model of the prosthesis? How can a patient control medical information about their person once it has been digitized? How much of an issue is it if the skilled parts of the job happen somewhere other than Uganda?

"As a society, we've developed practices that are different digitally and physically," Ratto says. "But we are starting to lose the separation. Digital and physical modes are getting entangled. That's something that needs to be thought about. The prosthetics project is an example of how to explore these ideas."

Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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