About a year ago, Dubai got pretty specific with some of the goals for its multi-tiered 3D printing plan in terms of the medical sector, when the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) announced that it plans to be offering 3D printed limbs at a cost of Dh400 (about $109 USD) by the year 2025. In the fall of 2016, the DHA said that its hospitals would be using 3D printing technology by 2017, which came to fruition in January when the DHA announced that it would soon begin using the technology for its dental services and prosthetics. We’ve learned that this week, a Dubai resident received the first fully 3D printed prosthetic leg in the region, which could herald dropping costs of conventional prosthetics.
51-year-old Belinda Gatland, a British expat and current resident of the UAE’s capital, is an equine physiotherapy specialist. She severely injured her left leg in a horse racing accident in the UK when she was in her early 20s. The leg had twisted badly, and according to Gatland, the bones below her knee were “shattered to smithereens.”
The bone tissue in her leg eventually suffered necrosis, and after nine failed operations to try and relieve Gatland’s continual and agonizing pain, she decided to have her leg amputated below the knee at the age of 40. Gatland, still living in Great Britain at the time, then had to wear many different traditionally manufactured prosthetics as the muscles near her knee started to shrink and atrophy. Since the UK’s government health service only provides basic prosthetics to amputees, in order to keep up with her active lifestyle of running and horseback riding, Gatland had to privately pay for custom new prosthetic legs herself.
Gatland told the Gulf News, “It’s an expensive thing to be an amputee.”
But thanks to a trial she is undergoing, that could change. This week, Gatland was fitted in the UAE with the first completely 3D printed prosthetic leg ever developed in the region. The DHA and Arab Health facilitated the project, and Gatland was also supported by a fund for injured jockeys in the UK. While Gatland has only worn the 3D printed prosthetic for a few days, she seems pretty happy with the results.
“It is very comfortable. I could put it on straight out of the machine, rather than go through casting, a test socket and the many different consultations that are needed,” Gatland told The National. “There isn’t much I can’t do with this leg.”
Parts for the prosthetic were 3D printed at the Bulgarian medical firm ProsFit and German medical firm Mecuris, and the fitting took place in Dubai. A standard prosthetic leg can cost anywhere from Dh11,000 to Dh20,000, and custom prosthetics for active people like Gatland can cost up to Dh80,000. But developers are hopeful that they can lower that cost to between Dh2,500 and Dh40,000 with 3D printed prosthetics, which is getting closer to the price the DHA predicted for 2025.
Sebastian Giede, a Certified Orthopaedic Prosthetist with Mediclinic who fitted Gatland’s leg, said, “The potential of 3D printing in the field of prosthetic devices is huge. It allows for faster turnaround times, more personalisation in terms of both design and functionality, as well as great flexibility when it comes to replacement.”
This is especially good news for young amputees, who grow out of their prosthetics quickly.
Informa, the firm that organizes the Arab Health forum with the DHA, paid for the prosthetic, together with the UK’s National Health Service and the two medical firms that 3D printed the parts. Gatland’s donated prosthetic is part of the DHA’s 3D Khair initiative, with the UAE’s nationwide Year of Giving 2017.
Humaid Al Qutami, chairman of the board and director-general of the DHA, said in a press conference this week, “The DHA has prioritised fostering the development of future technologies such as 3D printing in health care. We are keen to bring in the latest technology in medicine to further bolster patient-centric care and improve the lives of our patients to the best extent possible.”
As costs drop, with the help of 3D printing technology, tailor-made prosthetics can offer patients a more convenient, less expensive option.
Gatland said, “This new technology is unbelievable. I’m really impressed with the foot I’ve got. It feels very real, and it’s very comfortable.”
Discuss in the 3D Printed Prosthetic Leg forum at 3DPB.com.[Sources: Gulf News, The National / Images: Gulf News, unless otherwise noted]