Children with disabilities face many challenges: sometime the basic ability to sit upright is one of them. Naveed Parvez and his wife Samiya had to manage this problem head on as their son Diamo, born in 2003, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and was also a quadriplegic. He required hefty metal and foam orthotics such as a back brace and other devices to help maintain his posture to eat and participate in other activities.
Today, orthotic devices for children are made via a time consuming and cumbersome process whereby a child must be immobilized (even if they don’t have the cognitive ability to understand what’s happening to them) and a plaster form made by covering the affected area in slow-hardening, plaster materials. The resulting mold is necessary to produce a custom-made device. The process from measurement to useful device can take up to 28 weeks and the child will likely outgrow the orthotic within three to six months.
The Parvez family experienced the complex timeline of orthotics creation firsthand and sought a solution that would speed the manufacturing process so that children like Diamo (who hated lying on his back) could have the quality orthotics more quickly. “We started from the point, how could we deliver healthcare that’s 100 times faster and 100 times better and half the price?” explained Parvez via Skype from his home in London recently. Their proposed solution is nothing short of revolutionary: combining 3D scanning, 3D printing and biomechanical models to produce orthotic devices of the highest caliber that accurately fit disabled children.
Formerly in the tech industry, both Parvez and his wife are the progenitors of Andiamo, a hybrid medical-tech company that is poised to tackle the development, pro-typing testing and production of this innovative digital solution. “We’ve gone through this journey and we’re serious about making a difference and solving this problem globally,” he explains. Because of their firsthand experience, and as a way to work through their pain of losing Diamo in 2012, the couple initially sought to establish a charity but quickly learned that a social mission, however noble and well intentioned, wouldn’t scale in the reality of how things operate in the medical world. To build prototypes, to work with the UK’s National Health Service and to attract investors meant establishing a business. To that end, Andiamo turned to IndieGoGo.com for crowd-sourced funding for the enterprise.
Parvez recounts two key moments of inspiration: an article in Wired.com, about a young girl who had a 3D exoskeleton created for her via 3D printing and, in early 2013, a moment at the Monki Gras tech conference where a panelist demonstrated how, after scanning, a piece of metal could be realized (via http://www.shapeways.com/). Although the couple, their clinical advisors and partners were serious about the endeavor, the IndieGoGo campaign not only raised their profile, “People who had previously dismissed us, suddenly went, ‘there really is something here,’” finds Parvez. Conversations “have sped up,” and the team is talking to major investors.
Crowdfunding also allowed them to find families wiling to participate in prototype testing and all that involves. For the initial test run, three families will participate for a 12-month period. Costs are high initially as Andiamo is utilizing industrial grade printers and the core idea is to build a business model that scales. “We want to be treating millions of people, so there’s a lot of thought in the up front,” Parvez explains. “We know how to do the scanning, design and printing but we have to be happy clinically: the device has to last three months and has to be as good as what’s on the market.”
Overall, Parvez contends, for a variety of reasons the orthotics and prosthetics industry is “in a lot of trouble.” As a profession, it has been traditionally passed down from father to son. And there is a shortage: in the UK there are 400 qualified personnel seeing two million people; in the US, 1,500 trained orthotists treat an estimated seven million patients. Because the rehabilitation industry is such a hands-on, almost one-to-one clinician to patient ratio, it doesn’t scale. Parvez predicts that when implemented, 3D scanning and printing will speed treatment.
“If we can make this model work, leveraging technology to redeliver and redesign health services, we could take the core of the idea and apply it somewhere else,” he continues. Andiamo has come to fruition in just 11 months (and exceeded its initial Indiegogo.com goal of £60,000). “We’ve become de facto experts in the area because we didn’t know it was impossible. It’s amazing what happens when you’re a little stupid.”