A laboratory at the University of Toronto is partnering with an international NGO and a Ugandan hospital to use 3-D scanning and printing to speed the process of creating and fitting sockets for artificial limbs.
While 3-D printing has been around for some time, a new generation of fast, cheap 3-D printers offers up a world of possibilities for highly customized limbs and products.
Prostheses need to be customized to suit a recipient’s individual physiology.
Traditional assessing and fitting procedures take many days or weeks, and require specialized knowledge of an on-site prosthetic technician.
“The major issue with prosthetics in the developing world is not access to the materials of prosthetics; it is access to the expert knowledge required to form and create them, laboratory” says Matt Ratto, a prof. in the Faculty of Information. laboratory.
A 3-D scan of a Ugandan’s residual limb can be sent within seconds to another part of the world where a prosthetist can digitally design a replacement, sending that file back to Africa to be printed. Printers are increasingly sophisticated, capable of using a wide range of resins and polymers to create 3-D objects.
The brings about the capacity to make a prosthesis in less than 24 hrs.
“The underserved population is largely rural,” said ginger coons (who spells her name in lower-case), a PhD student in Ratto’s laboratory. “People have to come to the hospital. Not many can afford the long stay. We want to make their stay a lot shorter.”
Ratto and coons hope that what they learn from the Uganda project will help them develop similar solutions in other parts of the world.
This raises questions that are central to Ratto’s research and the Critical Making Lab he directs at U of T: Who owns the scan of the patient’s body and the digital model of the prosthesis? How can a patient control medical information about their person once it has been digitized? How much of an issue is it if the skilled parts of the job happen somewhere other than Uganda?
For Ratto, this project exemplifies exactly what critical making—understanding new technologies through first-person experiences of creating things with them—is best at.
“As a society, we’ve developed practices that are different digitally and physically,” Ratto says. “But we are starting to lose the separation. Digital and physical modes are getting entangled. That’s something that needs to be thought about. The prosthetics project is an example of how to explore these ideas.”