How 3D printing is bringing prosthetics to Uganda

The Red Cross states that there is a shortage of 40,000 prosthetists (prosthetic technicians) across the developing world. In Uganda alone, there are a quarter of a million children in need of prosthetics due to birth defects, polio, or disease-and only 12 prosthetic technicians in the country. To close that gap, we need to provide a technological solution. 

 Autodesk Research and the Autodesk Foundation are working with Nia Technologies, a non-profit organization based in Canada that creates custom-fit prosthetics and braces for children, the University of Toronto and CBM Canada to 3D print below-the-knee prosthetics for children in Uganda. 

Together, the organizations are embarking on 3D PrintAbility, a project aimed at addressing this problem by leveraging emerging and affordable 3D scanning and printing technologies designed to reduce the human labor and time required to produce prosthetic sockets. The goal is to not only increase the supply of prosthetics, but also to reduce the design and fabrication process from 1 week to 1 day.  

 The current clinical evaluation test site is CoRSU, a children’s rehabilitation hospital in Uganda. Over the summer, the trial team was able to fit 40 kids with prototype sockets in a short amount of time. The team will be taking the lessons from this trial to continue their work in another clinical trial in the coming year. 

To make this all possible, the team is using a mix of technology to create the prosthetics, including Meshmixer. Meshmixer allows the CoRSU, the hospital in Uganda, prosthetists to design a printable socket from the 3D scan of the residual limb. The prosthetists have no CAD or 3D design experience, so an extension to Meshmixer called SocketMixer guides them through the design process, which takes about 10 minutes. The following video demonstrates the basics of how to create a form-fitting shell in Meshmixer.