Medical & Dental

University of Pittsburgh explore the possibilities of 3D printing for war veterans.

From this Friday nations around the world will unite in their annual commemoration of the First World War, with days marking Remembrance, Armistice and Veterans respectively in the Commonwealth, Allied territories and the US. Though this year marks almost 100 years since the ceasefire, disability gained in areas of conflict, and indeed from even broader causes, are still something that the world endeavours to find life-improving solutions for.

The Veterans Affairs (VA) Research and Development program in Washington DC, was recently in conversation with Dr. Brad Dicianno and Garrett Grindle of Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to explore the possibilities of using 3D printing to help disabled veterans.

HERL have been using 3D printing technologies in their development for around 15 years now, but Dr. Dicianno and Grindle pointed out that the improvements 3D printing brings to the manufacture of supports has not been properly assessed in current literature. In a review for the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Journal they, along with two other researchers, analyzed the 7 different types of additive manufacturing and their implication in 20 cases of assistive technology and orthoses (support items) and prostheses (attachable articles) manufacturing.

One of the studies the researchers looked at is called 3D printed prototype for casting ergonomic wheelchair pushrims (Medola, 2012). Pushrims are the rings that wheelchair users use to push themselves along. That survey showed that 100% of participants preferred the 3D printed equivalent of their standard pushrims, with 67% finding it “very easy” to move with them, and 33% only “somewhat easier”. Though contrasting evidence was also found, Dr. Dicianno et al. eventually determined that 3D printing for all three sectors is ultimately worthwhile.

Earlier in the year, when 3DPI reported on Polina Rožkova, the fencer who had 3D printed back brace to compete in the Rio Paralympics, this advantage was also evident. It may be the case that orthoses are better when 3D printed due to the necessity of them being custom made, whereas with assistive technology and prosthetics, specific customization isn’t so important as their durability and ability to perform their given task.

In their talk with VA research currents, Dicianno/Grindle concluded that,

Tools are only as good as the people using them. If the proper investment is made in training, research and development, and access to the machines, then we will likely see 3D printing solve many modest problems and transformationally change a few others.