This year, roughly 6 million people in the United States will break a bone. In the past, itchy casts made of plaster and fiberglass were used to set the broken bone and heal it. But, now a new normal is taking over. Soon, 3-D printed casts will replace the traditional cast models. These sleek, modern casts are waterproof, comfortable, and may even help bones heal faster.
These new 3-D printed casts are made of a lattice designed plastic that are catered specifically to the shape of the person’s limb. This new design offers major hygienic improvements and will reduce the number of follow-up appointments. People now have the luxury of wearing a lightweight, breathable cast that provides easy access to their skin during doctor’s visits. Doctors are impressed with the new convenience of re-dressing wounds—something especially helpful with geriatric patients.
How Are 3-D Casts Made?
First, the patient’s broken limb is photographed with a 3-D scanner that is compatible with an iPad. Then, the scan is used to form the model, which is then sent to the 3-D printer to be manufactured. Typically, the finished cast comes in two pieces to make attachment to the limb easier. The 3-D pictures that were originally scanned are then used to track the wearer’s progress throughout his/her recovery.
Spanish startup, Xkelet, redefined the cast making process by creating the 3-D app. Before, companies had to use expensive 3-D printing equipment, which made commercialization difficult and kept costs high. Now, while the cast isn’t entirely cheap, Xkelet has reduced the price of the cast to $200-$500. Once their software, materials, and scanning solutions are verified, Xkelet will become the new norm for broken bone treatment options.
3-D Printing in the Health Industry
3-D printers aren’t just used to remodel casts, they are also used for myriad other medical feats including hearing aids, prosthetic limbs, and even organs and blood vessels. These printers are catching the eyes of biomedical engineers all around the world because they offer something that has never been available: customization.
In the past, medical devices were created in identical forms—more for the demographic rather than the individual. 3-D printers are changing this uniformity by creating products that are specific to each patient. Researchers are studying ways to custom-print organ transplants that match the patient’s cells as close as possible. With this technology, people in need of an organ won’t have to spend months on a waiting list for a donor that their body may or may not accept.
3-D printing offers patients the opportunity to feel whole again. Prosthetics made to match the shape of old limbs, organs made of personal cells, and casts that are form fit allow the patients to heal and recover easier. This technology is leading the way to a brand new age of medicine.
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