Engineering.com: Changing lives – custom orthotics let kids walk

In the Media

Changing lives – custom orthotics let kids walk

Roopinder Tara reports on Matt Ratto’s presentation of Nia Technologies and 3D PrintAbility at Autodesk U in November 2016, for Engineering.com (March 13, 2017).

The following is an excerpt, read the full post here.

In recent years, 3D printing has facilitated important breakthroughs in the field of prosthetics. This has been particularly welcome in the developing world, where the need is greatest and resources are most limited. Nonprofit organizations and design schools are using technology for making customized, affordable prosthetic devices.

Canada-based nonprofit organization Nia Technologies is taking a different approach. While most organizations work directly with patients, Nia focuses on empowering the clinicians who make these devices. Matt Ratto, Nia’s chief science officer, spoke about his work at Autodesk’s annual conference, Autodesk University, in Las Vegas last November.

“Our work is driven by a set of social values,” said Ratto. “We start not just from technology, but from the values we use to change the way we design and the choices we make, in order to create real impact.” These values include innovation, environment-appropriate solutions, partnerships, and sustainability.

Watch Matt Ratto’s presentation via Autodesk U.

Mosaic: Potential of 3D printing to improve mobility device production

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Mosaic: Potential of 3D printing to improve mobility device production

For people who are missing limbs, 3D printing can make new prosthetics – faster, cheaper and better. It could transform mobility for millions around the world, reports Ian Birrell in Mosaic (Feb 19, 2017).

The following is excerpted from Mosaic’s article. Read the full article here.

… Without a prosthetic limb, people struggle to fetch water, to prepare food and, above all, to work. This throws them back on their families and communities, intensifying any hardship and poverty.

One group that has spent almost three decades trying to tackle such issues is Exceed, a British charity set up by diplomats and academics at the request of Cambodia’s government to help thousands of landmine survivors. It works in five Asian countries, training people at schools of prosthetics and orthotics. In Cambodia, there are still almost 9,000 landmine survivors in need of artificial limbs, although these days traffic accidents are a more likely cause of disability, while children also need braces for a range of common conditions such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy and polio. 

“If you wear a prosthesis you are disabled for about ten minutes in the morning while you have a shower, then you put your leg on and go to work. If you do not have one, then your hands are out of use with crutches so you can’t even take drinks to the table,” said Carson Harte, a 59-year-old prosthetist and chief executive of Exceed. “Without a prosthesis there are no expectations. You just go back and rely on the goodwill of your family.”

Exceed has begun a seven-month trial of 3D-printed devices in Cambodia with Nia Technologies, an innovative Canadian not-for-profit organisation. “This technology has the potential to increase the productivity of every technician,” said Harte. “It is not about printing off legs, nor does it replace the skills of a well-trained professional, but it has potential to produce a better, faster, more easily repeatable way of doing one key part of the chain. There are no magic bullets, but this may be an important incremental change.

“The key to success so far has been cross-fertilisation: putting engineers and prosthetist orthotists together. Engineers make broad assumptions that are not always right, prosthetist orthotists do not always know what engineers can do. Together we have made more advances in a few months than have been achieved in years, sorting our real problems in real time through collaboration.”

Nia is also trialling its 3D PrintAbility technology in Tanzania and Uganda, where there are only 12 prosthetists to serve a population of about 40 million people – and at the time of writing all six state clinics have run out of materials. Doctors there often deal with children who have lost limbs after falling in open cooking fires, while other youngsters need braces after suffering post-injection paralysis caused by badly administered jabs that damage nerves.

In Uganda their team is working with CoRSU hospital in Kisubi, a specialist rehabilitation centre for children with disabilities. Orthopaedic technician Moses Kaweesa said they found the technology lighter and faster to use, as well as easier for people in remote rural areas. “It used to take five days to have a limb manufactured, with lots of hanging around for the patient. Now it is barely two days, so they spend much less time in the hospital. There is also less waste of material, so for a country like ours this can help so much by cutting down the costs.”

The first person to test out a 3D-printed mobility device was a four-year-old girl who until then had dragged herself across floors and had to be carried around by her family. “When she was born her leg was missing the right foot,” said her older brother. “It was very difficult for her to walk, to play with other children. She can be lonely. But when she was given a leg she was able to run with others, play with others.”

Matt Ratto, Nia’s chief science officer, who led the project’s development, admitted that it was only when he saw the serious-looking child in her red dress start to walk that he realised his technology actually worked. But, like Harte, he urges caution. “We are surrounded by the hype of 3D printing with crazy, ridiculous claims being made,” he said. “We must be cautious. A lot of these technologies fail not for engineering reasons but because they are not designed for the developing world. You can’t just smash in these new technologies.

“A lot of what we are doing is social innovation. People think you are threatening to replace prosthetists, which is a problem since they can be hesitant to embrace it just like in the developing world. We are trying to develop a bridge between the North and South but we have to work with the people on the ground to build their capacity. They are the experts – and they are deeply interested in doing whatever they can to get the children walking.”

Ratto’s aim is to use their technology to fit 8,000 people with 3D-printed mobility devices within five years, across some 20 sites in low-income countries. “My sense if we get this right is that the growth can be exponential. If we iron out the kinks and work out the best way to help clinicians I think we will see something of a hockey-stick curve on the graph. But we must not get it wrong, move too fast nor over-hype the potential.”

This article first appeared on Mosaic and is partially republished here under a Creative Commons licence.

VOA: 3D printers allow Tanzania hospital to make artificial limbs more quickly

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VOA: 3D printers allow Tanzania hospital to make artificial limbs more quickly

Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania (CCBRT) hospital is using 3D printers to make artificial limbs, shortening a process that used to take weeks to just a few hours. Researchers want to see if this technology can be scaled up to meet the needs of the estimated 3.5 million people living with a disability in Tanzania. For VOA, Willy Lowry has the story from Dar es Salaam. Watch VOA’s video here.

CBC: Canadian innovators use technology to help improve global health

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CBC: Canadian innovators use technology to improve global health

February 5, 2017. CBC Radio, World This Weekend. James Murray reports on how Canadian innovators are using technology to improve lives in developing countries. Matt Ratto, Nia’s chief science officer, comments on how technology must be shaped to fit society, not the other way round. Listen to the audio clip here.

The Guardian: How 3D printing can revolutionise the medical profession

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The Guardian: How 3D printing can revolutionise the medical profession

“Before the vehicle that she was travelling in flipped over and trapped her right leg, Leakhena Laing was a happy teenager who enjoyed climbing trees and playing football with friends. After her limb was amputated, she could only sit and watch. […]

Today, aged 18, Laing’s part of a ground-breaking trial by the Canadian non-profit social enterprise Nia Technologies, aiming to produce high quality mobility devices for children and young people more quickly than the conventionally produced plaster cast method – using a 3D printer and other 3D technology.”

Read the full story on The Guardian.

The Phnom Penh Post: Innovative trial to put printed prosthetics in reach

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The Phnom Penh Post: Innovative trial to put printed prosthetics in reach

Image: Ouk Vy, 21, is fitted for the first 3D printed trans-tibial prosthetic socket in Cambodia at Exceed’s private clinic last week. Photo by Athena Zelandonii for the Phnom Penh post.

“In a waiting room in Stung Meanchey last week, 21-year-old Ouk Vy sat patiently as technicians fitted him with a small socket to connect his right leg – which was amputated at the knee last year after a traffic accident – to a new prosthetic limb.

Vy then stood and took a step forward, as he has many times before.

This new socket is different from others he has worn out: it is the first to be made from a scan and then manufactured from scratch in just a few hours in the only 3D-printing lab for below-the-knee (more technically, “trans-tibial”) prostheses in Cambodia. The lab began its first clinical trial last week, and Vy was first in line.”

Read more in The Phnom Penh Post.