U of T team works to create 3D-printed limbs for Ugandan children

Video: Researchers from Toronto have found a way to make prosthetic limbs using a 3D printer. As Christina Stevens reports, the limbs are transforming lives a world away.

TORONTO – Consumer-grade 3D printers have been used to create everything from guns to edible candy; but a team at the University of Toronto is hoping to use the technology to change the lives of children with disabilities in Uganda by helping to create prosthetic limbs.

“Mobility is something that people take for granted. But a lot of children in the developing world don’t have the capacity to move on their own due to amputation or congenital disease,” said Matt Ratto, professor at the faculty of information at the University of Toronto.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) has indicated that the current shortfall of prosthetic technicians in the developing world is 40,000 and that they can only train up about another 18,000 if they spent another 15 years doing so.”

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In order to solve this problem, Ratto’s team is using consumer-grade 3D printing and scanning technology to reduce the need for technicians in developing countries by making it easier to make parts for prosthetic limbs.

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“We’re seeing if we can capture a 3D model of a child’s residual limb – whatever they have left after an amputation – turn that model into a 3D model and convert that into a printable socket that can serve to support a prosthetic limb,” Ratto said in an interview with Global News reporter Christina Stevens.

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Currently, the process of fitting a child with a prosthetic limb in Uganda is labour-intensive.

It takes a highly skilled technician days of work to construct a customized socket for the prosthetic to fit into; a process that has a high likelihood for error.

But the team hopes to eliminate the need for highly trained technicians by 3D printing the limb’s socket.

“Our solution does away with that particular skill set and potentially makes it possible for people with less expertise to produce well-fitting prosthetics,” Ratto said.

The process will also take considerably less time – with a 3D-printed socket being made in just seven to 10 hours. Ratto said the process will also be more reliable, as the technology allows for a common standard of quality from beginning to end.

With the help of the Christian Blind Mission, a large NGO working with hospitals in developing countries, the team will launch a pilot project at the CoRSU Hospital in Uganda.

Eventually, all of the 3D printing and scanning will be done on site in Uganda.

“We will feel the reward when we see that first child walk off down the street wearing a prosthetic socket that we made,” said Ratto, who noted that project is still about 18 months away from launching in the African region.

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– With files from Global National reporter Christina Stevens

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