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Wow of the week: Could a 3-D printed cast become a disruptive medical device?

8:45 am by | 16 Comments

exoskeletal cast pictureAbout 6 million people break their bones each year, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. But after fracturing his arm, one industrial design graduate used a 3-D printer to produce an exoskeletal brace. The result is an innovative concept for fixing broken bones that, if nothing else, has presented an interesting case for rethinking the traditional cast.

Victoria University graduate Jake Evill created the brace prototype with a homemade 3-D printer and nylon plastic.

In an interview with Wired magazine, Evill said the inspiration for his Cortex design came from the trabecular, a structure that forms the inner tissue of a bone.

“It was this honeycomb structure that inspired the Cortex pattern because, as usual, nature has the best answers,” he said. “This natural shape embodied the qualities of being strong whilst light just like the bone it is protecting within.”

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Patients being fitted for these braces would have an X-ray taken and then a scan of the injured arm or leg. A computer would assess the optimal pattern and structure for the cast.The honeycomb design would do away with the stinky, sweaty yuckiness that accompanies plaster and fiberglass casts and allow more breathing room for the skin.

Evill has emphasized that the Cortex cast is still a work in progress. For one thing, the 3-D generated version takes much longer to produce than a plaster cast, which only takes a few minutes. But Evill, who developed the design in collaboration with Victoria University’s orthopedics department, is looking for collaborative partners and a hospital to pilot it.

Finding new ways to accelerate the healing process for fractures has been a big priority in orthopedic medicine. Stem cell therapy has garnered a lot of attention. But some other approaches include using polymers to create a form of scaffolding and converting pre-evaluated blood plasma into a biologically active putty to accelerate healing for sports-related bone injuries.

Of course it’s not the first orthopedic concept produced with a 3D printer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared a skull implant developed by Oxford Performance Materials called OsteoFab Patient Specific Cranial Device.

 

infographic 3d printed brace.

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Stephanie Baum

By Stephanie Baum

Stephanie Baum is the East Coast Innovation Reporter for MedCityNews.com. She enjoys covering healthcare startups across health IT, drug development and medical devices and innovations deployed to improve medical care. She graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania and has worked across radio, print and video. She's written for The Christian Science Monitor, Dow Jones & Co. and United Business Media.
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15 comments
LavellLucas
LavellLucas

If nothing else this will increase the number of patients needing surgical correction for improperly treated, malaligned fracture healing after printing thier own casts. Also the design shown would give limited, at best, protection to a displaceable fracture that has been properly reduced (aligned) either with open(surgical) or closed reduction. It LOOKS cool though.  :)

Tinman0
Tinman0

@LavellLucas  in consideration of your concern on limited immobilisation and a previous one on high pressures at the contact points,  I would imagine that this would have to be used in conjunction with padding, just as is used with traditional casts. It's probably that the printed version shown is a) proof of concept at present, and b) looks so much cooler without any padding!

S Martin
S Martin

Does the "computer [that] would assess the optimal pattern and structure for the cast" use Geomagic?



people on linkedIn
people on linkedIn

Is it disruptive? No it is an amelioration of an existing technique - Is it a benefit for the patient? Of course - Can we implement it today? Not sure I do not know a lot of hospitals having 3D printing technologies in their Plaster Rooms - Is there a Health Economic Benefit? I do not think so. You need to take an extra scan, it takes more time then using a traditional cast, you probably need to buy some software to reproduce the cast etc. I believe it is a very good idea but right now the environment is not ready for it.

jomiller48
jomiller48

There has been quite a lot of orthopedic 3D printing type musing going on. While this is academically interesting it is far from the pinnacle of the ingenuity that can drive this type of technology. I read about this (http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16907104) almost two year ago it seems as I was finishing medic school here in the states. I remember think "Wow, how cool would it be if they could use MRI technology and this printing process to print "scaffolding" that could be installed in two pieces around a bone to strengthen it, for people with diseases like osteoporosis. Or what about replacing a single bone with and entirely titanium one, like a crushed humerus that would normally cause amputation. Yes there are marrow, vasculature and nerve issues but a single bone in the body shouldn't be insurmountable." And I am not even close to knowledgable to create this stuff. My musings I believe would have to be lagging behind those who can create the tech. I remember over a decade ago, while i still attended michigan technological university, when vasculature was being printed with cannon bubble jet printers. This seems interesting, but more like a proof of concept teat rather than the attempt at innovation.

Alec Covaci
Alec Covaci

OK, on a fractured, swollen limb a traditional cast offers comfort by its large contact surface. This cast has tiny surfaces with high pressures on the underlying tissues, interrupting local blood circulation. To fix a fracture, you have to put pressure on the distal and proximal segments, sustaining them without damaging the tissue. I don't see how this device complies with this requirement.

Tinman0
Tinman0 like.author.displayName 1 Like

I'd like to know how it's fitted. Does it come in two parts or do you stick your arm in the printer?

Curious
Curious

Milkburp, I think the "disruptive" refers to it being a game changer, as in, it'll disrupt the current norms.

Arugg
Arugg

I really like this idea!!! My son just had a cast, BUT ended up with a "chemical burn". He ha Icthyosis AND eczema sendondary to that!! This would be great!

grivet
grivet

Most traditionalists fear innovation, yet those who do not at least view it as a possible better way, risk becoming like the do-do of history. Yes, tyhere are false steps, but overall, those who thinkl outside the box are the ones saving lives and providing superior (and lower cost) care.

milkburp
milkburp

I find the title a bit misleading. What exactly is disruptive about this technology? The time it takes to print? The size of the 3D printer? The cost?

BenLinus
BenLinus like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Jake needs to finish his PhD or MD so he can be known as Dr Evill! 

Norman Rogers
Norman Rogers

Of course, no orthopedist in the western world makes plaster casts anymore.  They make hard casts from rolled fiberglass tape with water activated resin.  Faster, better -- and the rolls come in pretty colors! 

Tinman0
Tinman0

@Norman Rogers "Of course, no orthopedist in the western world makes plaster casts anymore" maybe in the US Norman,  but we still frequently use plaster in UK orthopaedic hospitals, and tend to reserve resin for kids and highly mobile patients

Honolulu Baby
Honolulu Baby

@Norman Rogers  Better than plaster, except any solid cast causes skin degradation, even bivalved and wrapped.  I like the open nature of this cast, allowing the skin to "breathe," so to speak.