What if casts did more to heal your broken bones than just preventing them from moving and protecting you from bumping them into stuff? That is exactly the goal of designer Deniz Karasahin, who has created a 3D-printed cast rigged up with Low-Intensity Pulsed Ultrasound (LIPUS) — technology that could speed the healing of fractures.
The design was originally modeled after the Cortex 3D printed cast from designer Jake Evill of New Zealand. Karasahin thought it would be a perfect model to hook up with a LIPUS system. The LIPUS system requires that probes are attached to the actual skin surrounding a fracture — a process made much easier with a cast that’s covered in openings. The incorporation of the LIPUS technology was enough to win Karasahin a prestigious A’ Design Award.
Karasahin wearing the Osteoid Cast. (A’ Design Award & Competion)
A healing bone goes through four stages: inflammation, soft callus formation, hard callus formation, and bone remodeling. In some studies, the application of LIPUS accelerated all four of these processes — leading to a faster overall healing process. In fact, in an analysis of LIPUS therapy effectiveness, it was noted that in the only cases that the LIPUS therapy didn’t work (4 out of 7) the therapy wasn’t administered immediately, which may count for something. But truth be told, the jury is still out. There are some positive signs that it could help if administered early enough after injury, but the real answer is that more testing is required before anything can be said definitively.
Here’s what we do know: the Osteoid Cast and the Cortex both eliminate some annoyances associated with plaster casts. Remember digging into your cast with a clothes hanger to get to that itch? Or wobbling the whole thing around to give your skin a breath of fresh air? Both of these issues are solved by the Osteoid Cast and Cortex, which instead of being a solid sheaths of impermeable material, have lattice patterns which allow for ventilation and easy access to itches. Both models can also get wet and thus be cleaned from time to time.
3D printing is also being applied to more serious medical issues than a fractured ulna. In March it was announced that a 22-year old woman suffering from a rare disease that caused her skull to continuously thicken had the back of her skull replaced with a 3D printed dome. Since her disease was putting more and more pressure on her brain, it was already effecting her vision and motor skills at the time of the procedure. If left untreated, the condition would have killed her.
For another feat of 3D printing magic, check out Joshua Harker’s Crania Anatomica Filigre skull which is slightly less medically useful than the aforementioned skull, but no less impressive from an engineering standpoint.