Nov 24, 2017 | By David

3D printing can enable the fabrication all kinds of precisely customized products, at significantly more affordable prices than would otherwise be possible. This has been incredibly useful for the treatment of medical conditions, particularly in the developing world, and we’ve seen the technology used to produce highly personalized prosthetic limbs and other medical devices for people in some of the world’s poorest and most troubled places. Continuing this trend, a recent breakthrough has seen researchers at Canada’s University of Victoria 3D printing braces and corrective devices for children with scoliosis and club foot.

The kind of orthotic conditions they will be treating are much more common amongst adults in the developing world than in Canada and other more economically prosperous countries, as the corrective measures are relatively cheap and simple to carry out for children at a young age. According to UVic team member Nick Dechev, “In Western countries, it is relatively rare to see an adult with a clubfoot...But if you go to the developing world, it’s not uncommon to see adults with their feet rotated outwards at 90 degrees.”

Dechev’s team should be able to put together an effective treatment device for around $50, with the help of a 3D printer and some plastic filament. These immobilizing foot platforms and braces will be worn by infants and toddlers to treat clubfoot, and plastic girdles worn by children, ages six to eight, for scoliosis, which is a curvature of the spine. The team was recently awarded a $CA100,000 seed grant for their project, which will begin by providing the devices to kids in Nepal.

This funding was part of the federal government’s Grand Challenges Canada program, which announced a total of $CA3 million in awards last week. This initiative was started in 2010 as an independent, non-profit agency funded by Global Affairs Canada. It has a mandate to assist with new ideas in the treatment of women’s and children’s health in countries with low or middle-income. Since it began, a total of 470 different ideas have received funding. Of those, 60 per cent actually arose from the affected countries themselves, while 40 per cent arose in Canada. These Canadian ventures must partner with local people in order to qualify for funding.

The new research grant will be used by the UViC team to initially test out the technology, with 12 children affected by scoliosis and 24 cases of clubfoot being treated by the devices and monitored by clinicians over a 2-3 year period. “It’s not just thrown over the wall to people,” said Dechev. “There is a process of two to three years of follow-up to make sure everything is going well.”

The Victoria Hand Project, also instigated at the University, has already had great success in treating medical problems in the developing world using 3D printers. It has deployed 3D scanners and 3D printers to create customized prosthetic hands for people in Nepal, Guatemala, Ecuador, Haiti, Cambodia and Egypt. Dechev is also a member of this project, and he hopes that eventually the new scoliosis and clubfoot devices will be adopted by the same team in order to more quickly expand the reach of the technology across the parts of the world most in need.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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