If you’ve ever had a fractured limb, you know how unpleasant a cast can be. They’re bulky and uncomfortable — not to mention a blank canvas for embarrassing sketches by family and friends. But a Toronto start-up is using 3D printing to revolutionize the way fractured bones, as well as sprains and other similar injuries, are healed.
Inspired by an accident in which he broke his hand and had to wear a bulky fibreglass cast that interfered with his daily life, Mandad Tabrizi founded Heal.X Innovation, a company that designs customized, 3D-printed bone-fracture braces that are less itchy, more stylish, cheaper, and more conducive to healing than traditional casts.
“The core idea behind the system was to think about patients as people with behavioral needs throughout the course of their treatment,” Tabrizi said. “Although some of the materials used in casts have changed over time, the technology itself has remained the same for 300 years, along with such unfortunate side effects as odor, muscular atrophy, nerve damage, and a very intimidating cast removal method.”
Until now. Based on a X-ray that acquires a 3D model of the injured limb, a Heal.X cast is created on a 3D printer, at a hospital, using a medical grade resin with antibacterial properties, and then adhered to the body with a long-term adhesive. Over time, as the swelling reduces and certain areas require less support and more mobility, the cast itself can evolve through design variations. “A patient will receive check-ups, and in that check-up would be 3D-scanned and fitted for a new 3D-printed cast,” Tabrizi said. “This also enhances the psychological sense of healing, as over time the cast becomes smaller and smaller.”
The end result is a casting system that allows its owner more freedom and security as they travel down the road to recovery. “The casts are designed to allow the broken limb to swell naturally, without compression, as part of the healing process, a freedom traditional casts don’t offer,” Tabrizi explained. “It’s a particularly useful technology for children, whose bones continue to grow while fractured.”
Currently in the process of patenting the Heal.X system and further testing materials, Tabrizi sees a variety of markets for his custom designs. “Since the hospitals take longer to adopt new infrastructure for these types of treatments, currently we are commercializing our wrist bracing system through two different paths,” he said. “First, we’re marketing through sport clinics to be used on professional athletes. Second, we’ll have a simpler version of our first brace available for less complicated injuries, such as sprains and carpal tunnel syndrome.”
Call it one of the better breaks a patient will have had lately.