Prof. Matt Ratto holds a conventional prosthetic socket (left) and one his lab printed. Source: University of Toronto
Prof. Matt Ratto holds a conventional prosthetic socket (left) and one his lab printed. Source: University of Toronto

A lab affiliated with the University of Toronto is partnering with an international non-governmental organization (NGO) and a Ugandan hospital to provide 3D printed prosthetics for patients in Uganda.

3D printed replacement limbs are more affordable and can be made more quickly than traditional methods. The Uganda hospital takes a 3D scan of the patient in order to create a limb that is customized to fit the person perfectly. Within seconds of completing the scan, it is then sent to another part of the world where a prosthetist can design the replacement and send the file back to Uganda to be printed, typically within 24 hours.

“The major issue with prosthetics in the developing world is not access to the materials of prosthetics; it is access to the expert knowledge required to form and create them,” says Matt Ratto, a professor in the Faculty of Information. “We’re lacking prosthetic technicians, not prosthetics themselves.”

This process used to take days or weeks, an expensive route that is closed for most Ugandans. But with 3D printing, this process is much faster. Now Ugandan who would not otherwise have the time and money to wait for a prosthetic can get the help they need.

“The underserved population is largely rural,” said ginger coons (who spells her name in lower-case), a PhD student in Ratto’s lab. “People have to come to the hospital. Not many can afford the long stay. We want to make their stay a lot shorter.”

Ratto and coons hope to develop similar solutions in other parts of the world to help people. “As a society, we’ve developed practices that are different digitally and physically,” Ratto says. “But we are starting to lose the separation. Digital and physical modes are getting entangled. That’s something that needs to be thought about. The prosthetics project is an example of how to explore these ideas.”