3D printed feet are a step up for diabetes ulcer training

Thursday, 4 Apr 2019


A blend of icing sugar, chicken stock and flexible resin is proving to be the just the right recipe for creating realistic diabetes foot ulcers as part of a world-first training initiative at the University of South Australia (UniSA).

Concocted by UniSA-based podiatrists Dr Helen Banwell  (PhD) and Dr Ryan Causby (PhD) the gooey mixture is being added to 3D printed feet and is designed to mimic infected and non-infected diabetes foot wounds.

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 $4 to produce. The addition of life-like ulcers and effects is added by the creative hands of UniSA’s podiatry team and can encompass anything from dry gangrene to oozing pus.

Dr Banwell says the 3D foot models will play an important part in teaching podiatry students about how treat and manage high-risk foot conditions.

“The most effective way to manage these conditions is to medically remove dead or damaged skin to expose the healthy skin underneath and encourage healing. But learning the necessary scalpel skills to do this is challenging due to the risks of ‘practicing’ on a such a high-risk population,” she said.

“The 3D foot models – and the mock injuries with which we enhance them– enable us to provide a realistic but safe learning tool for students to practice their scalpel skills, before they begin clinical placements, and all without the stress or anxiety of treating a real patient.”

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

“Over the past two decades we’ve seen 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,” said dr Banwell.

According to Diabetic Foot Australia, diabetes causes more than 4400 amputations a year, and 10,000 hospital admissions for diabetes-related foot ulcers.

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