3D printing trial launched to help amputees in Madagascar, Togo

In remote and dangerous areas, 3D printing can be used to bridge the gap between the need for and access to prosthetic limbs.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

The advancement and development of smart and responsive prosthetics move forward every year, but in some cases, a return to the basics is far more valuable.

With the need for a prosthetic comes both expense and an assumed ability to access the medical care required for the development of a suitable prosthetic and fitting. However, in some countries, neither is generally available.

In areas where prosthetics are difficult to secure due to remote locations, danger, or a lack of income, some companies are developing aids which can overcome these barriers.

Among these firms is Humanity & Inclusion (HI) -- formerly Handicap International -- which has launched a new trial in Madagascar and Togo which utilizes 3D printing to provide affordable prosthetics.

"Our teams act on the frontlines of the world's most pressing emergencies, promote disability rights, provide rehabilitation, and ensure people live safely after conflict," the organization says.

HI is part of Impact 3D, a scheme funded by the Belgian Development Agency. Impact 3D is responsible for fabricating approximately 100 orthopedic devices for those in need in Togo, Mali, and Niger, with a particular focus on remote and conflict-torn areas.

Recipients of the artificial limbs are scanned by a small and lightweight scanner in order to render a three-dimensional model of the part of the body which requires a prosthetic. According to Simon Miriel, Manager at Impact 3D, this saves the team a vast amount of time as scans can be sent directly to fabricators.

The scans are then used to create a digital mold which is used by a PC system to adapt a prosthetic to the dimensions and shape required to fit the amputated limb. The design is then sent to a 3D printer which creates a custom socket out of thermoplastics to fit the recipient.

The trial only includes 19 participants, but the results appear to be promising. HI says that preliminary findings indicate the 3D printed sockets are a "safe and effective alternative to current socket designs."

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This eradicates the need for multiple fittings and adaptations in difficult to reach areas, as well as lowers the overall time and cost of a prosthetic.

Recipients, too, will feel the benefit -- as devices customized to fit amputated limbs will not cause the same issues as ill-fitting, basic prosthetics such as sores, pain prompted by movement, or muscle fatigue or wastage.

Should the trial prove to be a success, HI intends to trial the process in other areas.

"3D printing is unlikely to become the only way of providing prosthetics but we think it could be a great option in certain circumstances," said Isabelle Urseau, Head of Rehabilitation at HI.

The project is in partnership with Strathclyde University, ProsFit Technologies, and Proteor SAS.

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