Bone fractures plague millions around the world annually, yet progress in the realm of treatment and technology have been sluggish at best since the introduction of the plaster cast in the early 1800s.
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Traditional casts are inconvenient in many ways: they often get itchy and smelly, are heavy, and absorb water. Not to mention, patients often have to wear them in excess of six weeks, frequently impeding their cash flow and lifestyle.
Last year, a 21 year-old University of Wellington graduate, Jake Evill, presented the first innovation in bone fracture management, the Cortex. The proposed future cast utilises 3D printing to create a lightweight, water resistant, and significantly less bulky nylon cast. Evill’s invention sourced 3D scans to create customized 3D printed Cortexes tailored to fit individual patients’ dimensions. Not to mention, they look freaking awesome.
This year’s A’Design Award winner, Deniz Karasahin, took the 3D printed cast one step further by including Ultrasound (US) technology to accelerate the healing process. Called the Osteoid, the cast specifically deploys low intensity pulsated ultrasound (LIPUS) over the fractured bone during 20 minute intervals each day.
US are acoustic pressure waves that stretch beyond what humans are able to hear. The technology has long been used in diagnostics to visualise internal organs, and more commonly, fetuses. However, according to recent literature, the medical benefits of US reach beyond just a diagnostic tool.
The proportion of waves absorbed by a given tissue is directly related to the tissue’s density, thereby allowing physicians to target specific cells, healing bone tissue for example, with LIPUS.
Although the mechanism is not fully understood at this point in time, LIPUS have been shown to stimulate enhanced bone formation. Most exciting, is its ability to increase growth in nonunion fractures by 80%. Nonunion fractures are breaks that do not heal, or have significant delay in healing, and occur in approximately 5-10% of fracture cases.
Karashahin’s design stands to drastically improve the way we deal with fractures globally. Not only will your cast in the future be more fashionable, it will also be more functional, and ensure that you heal faster and better. The Osteoid is also a perfect example of what happens when science meets design. The future of medicine looks pretty damn cool.