Fiberglass casts may soon be relics of the past.
When Scott Summit tore a ligament in his arm, he dreaded the six month fiberglass imprisonment. These traditional casts have tons of downsides; cleaning/scratching your arm, showering, and not allowing your skin to breath are all annoyances that come with cast country.
Summit is the senior director of functional design at 3D Systems—a 3-D printing behemoth – and founder of Bespoke, a prosthetic and brace company. Naturally, he turned to each company’s tech for a solution.
“The exciting thing about 3-D printing is that there’s no one area with single growth,” he says. “Like the Internet in ’97, 3-D printing is exploding in all directions: aerospace, fine arts, dentistry, fashion—you name it. Companies are discerning that it’s the secret sauce of competitive advantage. With a specific nod to healthcare, it’s a certain sweet spot since human needs tend to be individual. Due to our morphology, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.”
Working with his business partner, an orthopedic surgeon, they developed a 3-D printed cast that would stabilize the wrist and keep the healing process efficient. They found that there needed to be three points of fixation to his arm, and three on his hand, to keep the wrist stable and allow the ligament to heal correctly. Summit 3-D scanned his arm, created a 3-D model of it, and tailored a cast to fit precise specifications.
At just five millimeters thick, the final product looks pretty barbaric.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s enough structure [for stability], but that’s only from the context of having too much structure with a fiberglass cast,” Summit says. “That’s done more for the convenience for the doctor versus the quality of life for patient. It’s not the best way, it’s just the way it’s been done.”
The cast let Summit shower like normal, and use creams on his wrist – impossible with the old fiberglass casts. He actually used creams that would lower the swelling, which in turn helped him recover faster (his doctor agreed).
While this is a one-off solution that was resource intensive, it could be the future of healing. There’s a wealth of benefits for everyone involved – the patient and the doctors – where these casts can improve everyone’s quality of life.
“When we threw this idea for stabilization out there seven years ago, it was pretty outrageous,” Summit says. “Now we’ve proven it’s not a novelty—it’s significantly better medicine.”