Customized 3D-printed prosthesis provides cost-effective solution for limb amputations

Written by Georgi Makin

3D-printed prosthetic
CREDIT: Singapore University of Technology and Design

Researchers from Singapore University of Technology and Design, in collaboration with a team from Tan Tock Seng Hospital (Singapore), have developed a 3D-printed prosthesis for a patient with a forequarter amputation that is more comfortable, flexible and cost-effective when compared to a conventional prosthesis.

Upper limb forequarter amputation procedures involve the removal of the patient’s entire arm, including the scapula. Following the procedure, patients often require highly customized, very expensive and uncomfortable protheses, which often require a high level of maintenance.

Outlined in Prosthetics and Orthotics International, the team adopted a user-centric approach, including the patient throughout the design and development processes. By using 3D printing, the team was able to customize the prosthesis to suit the patient, while also minimizing delivery time and reducing the associated costs by around 20%.

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The patient further reported high satisfaction for the cosmetic aspects with the 3D-printed prosthesis, as well as for the comfort of the fit and the ease of use, despite the added weight of approximately 100 grams. However, the patient did question the durability of the design, which the team attributed to their unfamiliarity with 3D printing technology rather than the design itself.

“Digitalization and 3D printing have been transforming the design and manufacture of complex medical devices, surgery planning, medical education and care delivery. Even though 3D printing technology has been around for more than3 decades since the early 90’s, it wasn’t until recently that people really began to appreciate and trust it for end-use fabrication. In this work, 3D printing freed us from the manufacturing constraints and enabled us to optimize the design to suit the patient’s needs. More importantly, this work sets the groundwork for future patient-specific end-use 3D-printed parts for prosthetic needs,” explained principal investigator, Assistant Professor Subburaj Karupppasamy (Singapore University of Technology and Design).

Trevor Binedell, Principal Prosthetist at the Foot Care and Limb Design Centre at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, concluded:

“The collaboration between Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Singapore University of Technology and Design has led to a great outcome for this patient. User-design and the digitalization techniques have elevated the levels of patient-specific care to create individual designs that truly meet the needs of the user. This process has the potential to improve unique designs for many of our patients and enhance their quality of lives.”

Sources: Binedell T, Meng E, Subburaj K. Design and development of a novel 3D-printed non-metallic self-locking prosthetic arm for a forequarter amputation. Prosthet. Orthot. Int. doi: 10.1177/0309364620948290 (Epub ahead of print) (2020);

Feature image: The schematic representation of the various stages involved in the user-centered, iterative process of prosthesis design. Credit: Singapore University of Technology and Design