A community worker helps a child walk for the first time with a new prosthetic. Photo courtesy cbm Cananda.

Ministry brings innovation to the mission field

Canadian mission teams up with university to utilize revolutionary 3D printing

TORONTO, ON—A year and a half of hard work recently came to fruition when four Ugandan children became the first to try out artificial limb sockets manufactured through 3D printing technology.

Researchers from the University of Toronto and cbm (Christian Blind Mission) Canada are developing new technology that could lead to a faster and less expensive way of providing prosthetics for patients in developing nations. Using 3D printing and scanning technology, parts for artificial limbs are being created in a fraction of the time current methods require.

A 10-member team, including cbm director of international programs Mitch Wilkie and university researchers, traveled to a Ugandan hospital January 19-23 for the first field test, thanks in part to a grant of $100,000 from the Canadian government’s Grand Challenges Canada Stars in Global Health program.

Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services (CoRSU) is located near Kampala and specializes in providing orthopaedic and plastic surgery to people with disabilities, with a particular focus on children. The International Monetary Fund estimates there are a quarter million children with disabilities in Uganda.

Disabled children face many challenges, including basic transportation and education. Families may hide or abandon disabled children due to social stigmas. A prosthetic limb can help alleviate many issues and give a child the confidence to succeed.

But acquiring prosthetic limbs presents a number of complications. The process may take upwards of a week as plaster of Paris molds are created to forge a socket to which standardized Red Cross components attach. The sockets are not always comfortable and may cause sores. There is also a lack of trained prosthetic technicians to adequately meet demand.

The Canadian team hopes the new 3D process—which requires approximately six hours and less than $12,000 in equipment—will help solve some of those problems.

During the field test, the team set up three 3D printers, trained local orthopaedic technicians, and test-fitted young patients, all of whom already had prosthetic limbs, with new 3D-printed prosthetic sockets.

The 3D technology allowed the team to scan each child’s limb stump in about five minutes, followed by about two hours of computer work before manufacturing, or printing, the socket.

It is a work in progress. Only one child was able to actually keep the socket, but Wilkie is very pleased with the progress made during the short time the team was there.

“We absolutely accomplished what we wanted while we were there,” he says. “A number of innovations had to be made on the fly like figuring out how to secure these new 3D printed sockets to the standardized Red Cross [prosthetic legs].”

Rosaline Cheptoo, 3, is one of the beneficiaries. As reported in the Ugandan newspaper The Observer, she was born without most of her right leg, leading her older brother to think she was bewitched, a common belief in some developing countries. However, a local NGO got involved and Cheptoo was eventually referred to CoRSU.

“We first came to CoRSU in May 2013 and the orthopedic surgeons told me that she had a sharp protruding bone which needed to be operated [on] to reshape it,” her brother told The Observer.

Cheptoo received a prosthetic leg, and was part of the test-run for the new 3D-printed sockets. “She can now play with others and I hope to take her to school this year,” her brother says.

Back in Toronto the research continues as 3D printing technology develops quickly. Wilkie says the team would eventually like to source the required materials in Africa instead of importing plastics for the project.

He is excited about what the project will mean for developing countries around the world. “We have definitely proven the concept and now we need to figure out how to scale this project up.”

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ChristianWeek Western Correspondent

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