3D Printed Cast Leads To Improved Recovery Times

2014-05-05_17-27-10

Deniz Karasahin, a Turkish industrial designer, has created a new 3D-printed cast that includes embedded ultrasound technology known to reduce the time it takes broken bones to heal. The new cast is only a prototype and has not been used in medicine at this point, but the innovative concept was enough to win Karasahin a prestigious design award and, more importantly, draw the attention of clinicians that are now evaluating whether the cast could have a place in future care delivery.

To create the cast, Karasahin starts by taking a 3D body scan of recipient’s limb. With this information, tight-fitting custom pieces are rendered in a software program that then runs the printing process. At this stage, the cast is engineered to have a web-like construction, leaving openings that allow the skin to breathe and reduce problems with washing and itchiness. At this stage, the thickness of the material in each area can also be adjusted, to add strength around the fracture site. Once the design work is complete, the cast pieces are printed in sections from light-weight materials and a locking mechanism clamps them into place on the wearer.

3d printed casts are not a new concept, relatively speaking, and researchers have been tweaking the idea of using 3D technology to improve on the design of traditional casts for several years. Karasahin’s design goes one step further than his predecessor’s work by incorporating new ultrasound technology that helps expedite the healing process. The technology was recently approved by the NHS for use on bone fractures that fail to properly heal after nine months.

Called non-invasive, low-intensity pulsed ultrasound, the new technology has been known to improve healing time for broken bones since successful clinical trials validated the technology in the mid-90s. This early testing correlated the use of pulse technology during the healing process with a 40 percent reduction in recovery time and an 80 percent increase in self-heal rate for fractures.

The problem with the new technology, is its need for direct contact with the skin. As the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence explains, “Ultrasound waves are delivered straight to the fracture site via a small transducer which is secured by a strap. For patients wearing a cast, a hole is cut to allow the transducer to make contact with the skin at the fracture site. The device is programmed to deliver ultrasound in 20-minute sessions which the patient administers themselves each day at home.”

To resolve this problem, Karasahin’s new cast includes an onboard transducer, embedded directly above the fracture site for each patient during the cast design. The cast also has ports where the ultrasound probes are plugged in for daily treatment.

For now, the cast is a prototype and ineligible for patient use. However, Karasahin reports that he is in talks with several medical companies that have offered to finance clinical trials and help bring the new technology to market.


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