(Credit: A' Design Awards)
A stylish-looking 3D-printed cast for broken bones uses an ultrasonic pulse generator to help stimulate the growth of new bone.
The wonderful thing about new ideas is that they are often spun off into combinations with other ideas into something excitingly different. Take the Cortex 3D-printed cast, designed by Jake Evill. Strong, lightweight and stylish, each cast could be custom-fit to the wearer and allowed the skin to breathe.
The Osteoid cast by designer Deniz Karasahin — winner of a prestigious A' Design Award — takes the same basic idea of a custom-built 3D-printed cast and refines it. As well as having a snap-together design that can easily be removed, the cast is well ventilated, minimising smell and itching, and waterproof, meaning the patient would not have to worry about getting it wet.
The big addition, though, is something called a LIPUS generator. Standing for "Low-Intensity Pulsed Ultrasound", it attaches to the cast and sends pulsed ultrasound into the affected area — a therapy that has been proven to speed the regeneration of damaged bone.
"For single 20 minute daily sessions this system promises to reduce the healing process up to 38 per cent and increase the heal rate up to 80 per cent in non-union fractures," the description reads.
"In order to function, the LIPUS ultrasound probes have to be placed on the injured area with direct skin contact, because of this requirement it was not possible to use this method with patients using standard medical casts. Now thanks to the ventilation holes on the Osteoid medical cast the LIPUS bone stimulator probes can be placed over the injured area."
To be fitted for a cast, a patient's arm (or other broken limb) is 3D-scanned, and a technician will use this data to design a custom cast for the injury, taking into account the injury's placement as well as size, geometry and ventilation hole placement. It is then printed in two parts that fit together like a puzzle, with a holes for a flexible wire to be threaded through, locking the cast in place.
At this stage, Osteoid is only a prototype, but — given that the medical field is often at the forefront of new technology, as it seems to be with 3D printing — it may not be long before we see it or something similar arriving soon.