Will 3D-printed casts takeover conventional plaster casts?

Ever had a broken bone and been encased in a heavy cast? Then, you are sure to understand the discomfort and inconveniences associated with it. Traditional casts can be physically restricting, potentially lead to skin problems and other complications in the long haul. For years, people around the world have been working on modernizing the splint that causes external discomfort for a completely internal injury.

This is where 3D-printing has come in as a blessing. Recent years have seen 3D printing profoundly empower the healthcare and medical field by churning out arrays of economic, personalized, open-ended, sustainable and quickly manufacturable products ranging from external prosthetics to cells and tissues to the most complicated and accurate mockups of organs for replacement or training the medicos.

Recently, a Mexican startup, MediPrint, has developed a prototype that could be handy in the most common orthopaedic problem of broken bones. This, according to its developers, can potentially shelve the cumbersome traditional cast.

“The material that conventional splints are made of is a highly hygroscopic plaster, meaning it absorbs sweat and causes the bacteria to proliferate because there is no ventilation,” said Zaid Musa Badwan, graduated from the engineering career in mechatronics at the Faculty of Engineering of UNAM and founder of MediPrint. He explained that there are cases of people who need amputations because of the misuse of the plaster and of the bacteria that grow in it.


NovaCast is ergonomic, lightweight, waterproof, and removable. Credit: MediPrint

Their patented product, NovaCast, is a customizable 3D-printed cast with an open plastic framework that allows the external layers to breathe whilst still holding the broken bones in place. This is a great advantage in keeping skin inflammations and infections at bay. Additionally, it is made of a very light (10 times compared to the plaster cast) and waterproof material, which is also invisible to x-rays thus eliminating most of the restrictive factors in the traditional plaster casts. These can also be temporarily removed to allow medical examinations.

Currently, printing a custom NovaCast takes about 3.5 hours on an average and the MediPrint team is working to reduce this further. What will make it desirable by hospitals is that key measurements of the injured appendage is sufficient for the software to generate an ideal geometry and a 3D scanner is not necessary. The product will ultimately save time spent by doctors to build up a cast themselves.

Despite sparkling a debate on the workability of such casts (see comments under the video on Facebook) in emergencies and complicated fractures requiring complete restriction for bones to heal, these could still be useful for simpler fractures. Pricing and recyclability of the material would determine the popularity and sustainability of NovaCast once commercialized.

The simplistic design could be a stepping stone to further advancement by pairing with other bone healing techniques. Read about the prospects of ultrasound-fitted Osteoid Medical cast, which aims at faster healing. It was designed by the Turkish industrial designer Deniz Karasahin and won the A’Design Award in 2014.

Sources: ScienceDaily, Reuters.

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