Scoliosis braces can be clunky, painful contraptions that often look like medieval torture devices. While they've modernized a bit with the times, there still aren't a lot of options for the millions of people afflicted with the condition that causes their spines to curve at a sideways angle.
But, 3D Systems is trying to change that with 3D printing.
The 3D printing and design company on Monday released its plans for a scoliosis brace that is devised to be sleek and comfortable. Dubbed "Bespoke," the 3D-printed brace can be personalized to the backs of children and young adults who have the condition.
"The main goal of this is to combine fashion, design, and technology to create a brace far more appealing to patients, and, as a result, far more effective medically," 3D Systems Bespoke designer Scott Summit told CNET.
Summit has been working on the design of the brace with Dr. Ken Trauner over the last four years. And, on Monday, 3D Systems announced that it successfully completed a pilot program that fit the brace to 22 patients at Children's Hospital of Oakland in California. Now, the company hopes to release Bespoke to the public.
When creating a personalized Bespoke brace, the company fits a prototype "check-socket" brace to the patient and then gathers correct sizing data to be digitized for 3D printing. The brace can be further adjusted if need be. For printing, the company uses high-temperature laser sintering, which helps make the brace as comfortable, flexible, and durable as possible.
"All of our children wanted the Bespoke Brace," Stanford University medical doctor James Policy, who worked with 3D Systems testing the brace, said in a statement. "We had a small 3D printed scale model of the brace on my desk. Once the children saw this, they all wanted one. I've never seen children respond so positively to a brace. It was so cool that once they were fitted, many were showing the brace off to their friends."
The fact that the patients liked the brace is important. Since scoliosis braces can be uncomfortable or embarrassing to young adults, they often don't wear them when they should and that could lead to serious spinal problems later on.
3D Systems is known for inventing 3D-printed products that help people with medical conditions. Earlier this year, the company designed a 3D-printed exoskeleton to help a woman, who was paralyzed in a skiing accident more than 20 years ago, learn to walk again. And, Summit has also worked on several different 3D-printed prosthetics for people with missing limbs.
Summit told CNET that 3D Systems plans to create a series of patterns and designs of Bespoke braces for children and young adults within the near future.