For many, healing fractures has meant submitting to a heavy and uncomfortable plaster cast designed to protect and hold broken bones tight.
However, two Latvian entrepreneurs, Sigvards Krongorns and Janis Olins are on a mission to change that. Their startup, CastPrint, uses 3D printing to create personalised, lightweight casts, with a plastic web to encase and support broken bones.
CastPrint casts are personalised, lightweight casts that are designed to be more comfortable to wear. They can be taken on and off, which allows patients to start rehabilitation exercises sooner. Considering that rehabilitation sessions cost between €20-40 in Latvia (a CastPrint cast costs approximately €100), this can speed up patient recovery time and save users money by reducing the number of physiotherapy sessions required. Users can even continue swimming with the CastPrint.
Krongorns and Olins entrepreneurial journey began when Olins broke his elbow during audit season. Recalling the story, Krongorns said:
“We’re both ex-auditors. Even though Janis could work, he had to stay home, as none of his suits could go over the cast- and, without them, you wouldn’t be able to go to a client.”
“At the time, I was also very passionate about 3D printing and its potential. One day in 2016 Janis mentioned, “Why not print a cast?” said Krongorns.
After the broken elbow episode, the pair found their first designer, Matijs Babris, and started to work on their prototypes.
“We interviewed doctors, clinic management, nurses, insurance companies and regulator representatives in order to find out more about fracture treatment and the processes involved,” says Olins.
Now, CastPrint has official partnerships with seven private clinics in Latvia. However, a few consultations were driven by curiosity. For instance, CastPrint’s partnership with the children’s hospital in the Latvian capital Riga came about when patients who had heard about the casts kept asking for its services. The service in the partnered clinics work as follows: CastPrint provides the clinic with their 3D scanner. The doctor or nurse performs the scan of the injury, and the 3D image is sent to Krongorns and Olins. Based on that, a personalized and customized cast is made.
3D medical printing is a rapidly evolving and growing industry. Predictions show that by 2024 the medical 3D printing market will be worth around 1.2 billion dollars. Considering this, there are also other pioneering 3D-printed medical device businesses to look at. In London, start-ups like Andiamo have been 3D printing wearable orthotic devices for children with disabilities since 2014.
There are competing rival cast-printing businesses elsewhere in the world. Nevertheless, these two Latvian entrepreneurs have seen 4x year-on-year growth this year, and they are confident that CastPrint will be successful. By working closely with healthcare professionals and businesses, they both believe it will allow their start-up to explore other business opportunities (like 3D-printing in orthodontistry) and shift its services to market change and demand.
“Initially there was, and for a good reason, a significant dose of professional scepticism from doctors regarding the technology and us as partners,” says Olins.
“However, once we proved that we listened and took their advice, the trust between us grew, and step-by-step new doctors were on board.”
“You can go in any clinic or hospital in Latvia and ask the traumatologist about CastPrint, and they would’ve already used it, or at least know there is a viable alternative to the traditional plaster cast,” he adds.
CastPrint has been a success in Latvia and both Krongorns and Olins are looking to branch out further into Europe- and eventually worldwide.
“We’re currently finalizing our entry in the Nordic countries (Finland first) and hope to be available in the UK in the upcoming months as well,” says Olins
“We envision, and hope, that with our work we can bring healthcare services and 3D printing technology closer together,”
“Because of the simplicity and ease of our service, there is more potential, and we can fundamentally change the way fracture injuries are treated in the world,” he said.