February 28, 2024

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3D printed feet to step up diabetic treatment

Credit: University of South Australia

3D foot models will be playing an important role in teaching fourth-year podiatry students how to treat and manage high-risk foot conditions.

According to a recent press release, gooey mixture is being added to newly- printed 3-dimensional feet and is designed to mimic infected and non-infected diabetic foot wounds.

How to make the model?

The mixture is gory, sticky and undoubtedly on the nose, but a blend of icing sugar, chicken stock and flexible resin is proving to be the right recipe for creating realistic foot ulcers as part of a world-first podiatric training initiative at the University of South Australia.

The 3D printed feet are created with wound-like cavities in place.

Made from thermoplastic polyurethane (a plastic with many properties, including elasticity, transparency, and resistance to oil, grease and abrasion), each takes a week to print, and costs less than A$ 4 to produce.

The University’s podiatry team is responsible for the addition of life-like ulcers and effects that encompass anything from dry gangrene to oozing pus.

Managing and adeptly treating severe foot conditions is an essential podiatric skill, particularly given the consistent rise in type 2 diabetes within the population.

For people with diabetes, foot care is very critical as one small cut can potentially lead to catastrophic consequences that include foot ulcers, lower limb wounds or amputations.

Diabetic foot disease

Diabetic foot disease is one of the leading causes of disability across the world with a mortality rate worse than many cancers.

An organisation, established to reduce the incidence and impact of foot disease on the lives of Australians living with diabetes, estimated that 300,000 people are at risk of developing diabetic foot disease on any given day.

In the country, diabetes causes more than 4400 amputations, and 10,000 hospital admissions for diabetes-related foot ulcers, many of which end with a limb or part of a limb amputated.

There has been a 30% increase in lower limbs amputation rates. About 85% of these are preceded by a foot ulcer and could be prevented with appropriate care.

Medically removing dead or damaged skin will expose the healthy skin underneath and encourage healing.

This is the most effective way to manage these conditions, however, learning the necessary scalpel skills to do this is challenging due to the risks of ‘practicing’ on such a high-risk population.

Boosting student learning

The 3D foot models, plus the mock injuries with which they are enhanced, enable the University to provide a realistic but safe learning tool.

The students will be able to practise their scalpel skills before starting their clinical placements, all without the added stress or anxiety of treating a real patient.

To support the training, ulcer debridement and management videos are being developed in partnership with the NADC accredited high-risk foot clinic at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

New technologies are opening doors every day. The students may be, pleasantly or unpleasantly, surprised with the models but they will be gaining confidence, techniques and critical skills.

This will put the students steps ahead of their competition.


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