How 3D printing supports orthopaedic clinicians
18-year-old Leakhena receives her first 3D-printed below-the-knee prosthetic socket as part of a clinical study by Nia Technologies Inc. and the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics. © 3D PrintAbility Clinical Study, Phnom Penh, August 2016.
A year ago, cbm Canada founded a social enterprise called Nia Technologies Inc. (Nia) to help increase access to high-quality, affordable mobility devices in low-income countries. Nia uses 3D printing and other technologies to produce custom mobility devices such as below-the-knee prosthetic sockets, ankle-foot orthoses, and leg braces for children and youth with lower-limb disabilities.
The idea of using 3D printing was conceived by cbm Canada during a visit to CoRSU Rehabilitation Hospital in Uganda in 2013. It responds to the needs of hospitals around the world to shorten production time, reduce material waste, and improve device affordability with current levels of staffing. In just three years, this spark of an idea has developed into an innovative design and fabrication toolchain called 3D PrintAbility, which combines 3D scanning, modelling, and printing technologies. This development is the result of contributions from research, technical, and funding partners including the University of Toronto, Autodesk Research, and Grand Challenges Canada.
3D PrintAbility was first field-tested at CoRSU in 2015 and is now being put through its paces with clinical evaluations in Cambodia, Tanzania, and Uganda. This latest research phase started in June 2016 and will continue through March 2017. It is the single largest clinical evaluation of 3D printed mobility devices: 14 orthopaedic clinicians at four rehabilitation facilities have been trained to use the toolchain to design and produce 3D printed lower-limb mobility devices for approximately 140 patients, aged 5-25 years. The results and findings of the clinical evaluation will be published by the research team when the studies are complete.
While some innovators seek to replace orthopaedic clinicians with automated solutions, Nia recognises the value of their craft, knowledge, and expertise. With training and ongoing technical support, researchers are helping clinicians transition their physical skills and knowledge into the digital space. To further support their professional development, Nia is building an online digital exchange and collaboration platform for the global orthopaedic community. The platform is designed to engage and connect orthopaedic clinicians who are working with 3D modelling and other 3D technologies. It will be tested with target users this spring and will be launched in summer 2017.
Nia believes that the goal of increasing access to mobility devices in low-income countries can only be achieved with an approach that integrates workflow productivity and professional development with device affordability. To this end, the next big step is to address the affordability of mobility devices with a novel eVoucher system called NOVA (Nia’s Online Voucher Administration system). NOVA will provide a robust digital distribution framework for funding from multiple donors. It will subsidise the cost to clinics of implementing 3D PrintAbility and the cost to patients of 3D printed mobility devices.
Contact person: Mitchell Wilkie (Director International Programs), firstname.lastname@example.org