Family tragedy begets mission to develop 3D-printed orthotics for children

By: 
September 22, 2014


For parents, there is no greater tragedy than losing a child. Naveed and Samiya Parvez lost their son, Andiamo, on his ninth birthday to complications from cerebral palsy. During his short life as a quadriplegic, Andiamo required extensive medical treatments to help with his posture, including the design and fitting of a custom back brace and hip abductor. The trial-and-error process, which has barely evolved over the decades, can be traumatic for a child. The Parvezs are now on a mission through their company Andiamo (London, UK) to bring this technology into the 21st century and spare other families from this ordeal through the use of 3D printing. They have launched an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign to raise money to cover the clinical and production costs for creating working orthotic devices. Ultimately, the Parvezs expect to be able to reduce wait times for back braces, hand splints, and ankle-foot orthotic devices from six months to days.

The possibilities of 3D printing were revealed to the Parvezs when they read about a 2 year old suffering from a condition that weakened her muscles and joints, preventing her from lifting her arms. Engineers at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Philadelphia used a 3D printer to make a lightweight plastic exoskeleton with "magic arms" that allowed her to lift her arms for the first time. "Suddenly, a world of possibilities started to take root in our minds," write Naveed and Samiya, on www.andiamo.io. On their site, they describe the measurement and fitting process their child had to undergo for a conventional brace:

  • Diamo had to be stripped for the mold to go on his skin.
  • He was covered in plaster of Paris to get a mold. This was done first with him lying on his front.
  • The plaster of Paris took about 10 minutes to dry. [We had] to keep him still enough for the mold to be accurate enough for it to be removed.
  • This was then repeated with him on his back, which he absolutely detested. He would scream throughout the procedure.
  • Measurements were then taken of his hips and legs.
  • We would then wait four to 13 weeks for [the brace] to be created using molded plastic and metal.
  • When it was ready, we went for a fitting, by which time he had grown and it had to be modified. If we were lucky, it was just a quick modification. If we weren't, it meant we had to go back for multiple adjustments.
  • The process was trial and error. Sometimes the brace would be ever so slightly out leading to sores and marks. For example, if the bit under the arm wasn't cut properly, it could bruise him under his armpit. We also cut strips of sheepskin to put inside the knee abductors to reduce sores.
  • This would then have to be repeated after six to nine months after he outgrew it.

By taking a 3D scan of the child, designing a brace around the biomechanical model, quickly producing a prototype, and iterating the orthotic using a 3D printer, the Pervezs figured this process could be accelerated, causing considerably less trauma to the patient and, ultimately, resulting in a better device.

3D printed brace
Example of 3D-printed orthotic brace. Photo courtesy Andiamo.

Approximately 100 million people worldwide need an orthotic device, say the Pervezs, and demand is increasing 4 to 6% annually because of diabetes, obesity, and an aging population.

In doing their market research, the Pervezs learned that traditional investors found the Andiamo project to be risky, since the technology is disruptive to an industry that has changed little in more than a century. The Indiegogo campaign that was launched on Sept. 14 has a relatively modest fundraising goal of £60,000 ($98,000). "We've realized that the health industry doesn't know how to design services that fit around [families'] lives," they write on Indiegogo. "We need to do 12 months of prototyping with families to create a blueprint for how to do this."

With the money raised, the Pervezs will produce up to 18 working orthotic devices for three families, who will not be charged for the service or the device. They will then leverage what they have learned to attract more funding. The Indiegogo campaign closes on Oct. 20, 2014, and, at the time of writing, they have raised 13% of their fundraising goal.

"We've just started improving the lives of disabled children and their families," write Naveed and Samiya Parvez. "We're not going to stop. Ever."

Norbert Sparrow

Norbert Sparrow is Senior Editor at PlasticsToday. Follow him on twitter @norbertcsparrow and Google+.

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