A thin and light 3D printed plastic cast with ventilation holes and its ultrasound bone stimulator can accelerate bone healing by as much as 38 percent, claims the designer behind Osteoid, a recent 3D product design winner.
Traditional orthopedic casts made from plaster or fiberglass are strong enough to stabilize broken bones while healing.
Due to them being heavy and enclosed, patients often have to endure the itchiness and bad smell of casts after just a few days of wearing them.
Turkish industrial designer Deniz Karasahin wanted to solve that problem by creating a cast with many holes from which moisture could escape. This results in a cast that is not itchy nor smelly, a better cast than traditional ones in that aspect.
The Osteoid medical cast can be custom-fitted using a 3D scanner.
A modeling software processes the exact specifications and shape of the scanned limb. Later, ventilation holes are incorporated into the computer model.
Using what is called fused deposition modeling (FDM) technology and ABS thermoplastic materials, a 3D printing machine then makes the actual cast in two pieces.
The prototype comes in black, but patients can later choose other colors of their choice if commercial versions become available.
The water-resistant cast is worn by attaching the two pieces together with flexible pins. The edges of the cast are lined with rubber so that ultrasonic probes can be attached.
Figuring out how to hold the pieces together proved a challenge to Karasahin.
“The most difficult part was to come up with a fully functioning locking mechanism which is strong enough to protect the limb, practical enough to put it on the fragile injured area and simple enough so that it doesn't disturb the general form of the medical cast,”
Says the design showcase page on the website of the A’ Design Award and Competition.
Ultrasonic probes from a bone stimulator, also 3D-printed, can be plugged through the holes in the cast.
This allows the probe to directly target the affected area for bone healing and regeneration.
The attachable pulse generator has LED lights to guide the user during operation. The gadget uses low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) therapy known to reduce the healing time of fractured bones.
The technology works by directing sound waves to broken bones where they create micromechanical stress and stimulate molecular or cellular responses involved in fracture healing.
“For single 20 minute daily sessions this system promises to reduce the healing process up to 38% and increase the heal rate up to 80% in non-union fractures,”
claims the team behind Osteoid, which received the Golden A' Design Award Winner in 3D Printed Forms and Products Design Category, 2013 - 2014.
A researcher who backed some of the early studies regarding the efficacy of LIPUS is optimistic that Osteoid can deliver what it promises.
“We know that ultrasound works,”
Dr. Michael Hausman, hand surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told Fast Company.
“There’s good evidence, presented most recently in two papers published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, the leading journal in orthopedics,”
he added, referring to promising results that showed benefits in patients with tibia fractures and wrist fractures in separate studies.
The Osteoid cast has the potential to help the millions of people around the world who suffer from fractures yearly to a quick recovery, while donning a lightweight 3D printed cast that does not itch nor smell, and can even look like a fashion statement.