3-D Printed Cast, Future Of Healing Broken Bones

A media design graduate from Victoria University in New Zealand, working in the area of orthopedics, has found another innovative use for 3-D printing.

Jake Evill has been credited with designing a tailor-made exoskeleton prototype called the Cortex cast, which may be the future of healing bone fractures in lieu of bulky, cumbersome plaster casts.

Unlike traditional orthopedic plaster casts – which fully encase a limb for several weeks to months – the Cortex molded cast provides a more form-fitting and comfortable wear and is simply rendered and clipped onto the affected area.

This cast provides optimal support to vulnerable skeletal anatomy.

Traditional casts are composed of either cotton bandages or knitted fiberglass which are treated with wet plaster and placed strategically over a brake. This paper-Mache like application is then allowed to harden as it dries – which can take up to 72 hours.

Due to the nature of the dressing, the limb is unreachable during treatment. It is often ill-advised to prematurely breach the shell of the cast unless medically necessary. Therefore, the skin under the plaster can becomes dry and scaly because the discarded outer skin cells are not able to shed properly.

Plaster of Paris casts can result in cutaneous complications including ulcerations, infections, rashes, itching, and allergic contact dermatitis, which may also be due to the presence of formaldehyde within the plaster bandages – depending on the material used.

Staphylococcal infection of the hair follicles and sweat glands can lead to severe and painful dermatitis or folliculitis, especially during warmer weather.

The Cortex cast would eliminate many of the aforementioned side effects as it is very lightweight, fully-ventilated, shower-friendly, and hygienic.

According to Wired, based on Evill’s model, the affected limb is X-rayed to isolate the injury and the arm, for example, is then scanned using 3-D technology in order to determine the precise dimensions. Thereafter, the data is fed into a computer where the cast is rendered.

The resulting cast would typically be three millimeters-thick and under 500 grams; thin and lightweight but durable because of its lattice-like pattern. This alternative would allow the wearer both finger and thumb dexterity along with the option of wearing a long-sleeved shirt.

Evill notes that the Cortex cast is still very much in the development stage. He’s currently working to nail down the optimal material for the cast and refine the scanning process. The next step thereafter will be testing it on actual hospital patients.

[Image via Jake Evill]