Po Paraguay: Disrupting Prosthetics With Low Cost, High Quality, 3D-Printed Body Parts

  • 17 October 2017
  • Expert Insights

This post is part of our new Future of Medical Industry series which interviews the leading founders and executives who are on the front lines of the industry to get a better understanding of what problems the industry is facing, what trends are taking place, and what the future looks like.

The following is an interview we recently had with Mateo Acosta, Production Manager of Po Paraguay.

1. What’s the history of Po? Where and how did you begin?

MA: The idea was born in 2014 from our co-founders Fernando Vallese and Eric Dijkhuis after watching a video of a person in Sudan who made a mechanical 3D-printed prosthesis.

Our first prototype was delivered at the end of 2014 to one of our users, Elias Benítez. In mid-2015, the Po (this is how we call our prosthesis) was modified and another one was given to that same person. By now, we’ve already delivered 4 prostheses to him.

The non-profit organization was formally established in 2015. We started with a single 3D printer; now we have 8, 7 production employees, and 15 staff members. We offer 3 different types of prostheses: hand, wrist and forearm and now we are working on our fourth prosthesis that would be above the elbow. The leg prosthesis is the next step. We are currently incorporating more members to the staff to contribute to the development process and we are preparing the machines to start experimenting.

2. What specific problem does Po solve? How do you solve it?

MA: The problem:

In this region, 1 in 2,000 people is born with some type of upper limb abnormality and only in Paraguay, every day, an average of 3 people suffer from an amputation due to diseases and domestic, transit or labor accidents. Less than 1% of all of them have access to a prosthesis.

The existing barriers are:

Economic: A traditional functional prosthesis for a person with upper limb disabilities costs around 3,000 USD and can reach up to 20,000 USD. These are numbers that do not fit our reality, not counting the recurring investment in a growing child.

Geographic: The few places that can offer you some type of aid are centralized in big cities, mainly the capital or cities close to the frontiers to our neighboring countries thus leaving an entire population aside.

Timing: No less important is the matter of time. Today's procedures to access a device have been bureaucratized and require months to years to be completed.

PO Paraguay proposes solutions to these three main problems:

Prices without equal. By being a non-profit, we can subsidize the costs. Thanks to companies and other organizations, we’ve been able to reduce the price to a 6% of the market prices, lowering from 3,000 USD to 180 USD for each prosthesis. There are also total subsidies, lowering prices to 0 USD.

Distance doesn’t count. All the necessary measures we need to make a PO are sent to us by Facebook or WhatsApp. Standardized photographs allow us to manufacture the PO without the person leaving the house.

Everything in a matter of a week. Our workflow including contact, measurement, design, manufacturing, assembly, and delivery takes only up to 7 days.

3. What’s the future of the medical industry?

Prediction #1: In the area of medicine, without much imagination, 3D printing in prosthetics is a reality, perhaps still in a stage of much disorder, with dozens of 3D models available on the internet that can be downloaded and printed. This already allowed thousands of people, who previously did not have the possibility, to have access to one. Sooner or later this chaos is going to be organized. Why not think of a future where the concept of a prosthesis has changed, becoming not only a skin-colored prosthesis that you try to hide but become a garment.

Prediction #2: Prosthetic sockets are the interfaces between the person's wrist and the prosthesis. These are currently made with a technique of more than 60 years old, where plaster molds were made and everything took place in huge factories using ovens and vacuum pumps to create them. Now prosthetic sockets are much more adapted to the person and built from 3D scans and 3D printing. The adjusted pressure points make the socket extremely comfortable, and with it, it reduces the rejection to the prosthesis.

Prediction #3: Why not go a little more into the future? Think of printing human tissue, bones, cartilage and even whole organs. Think of the current waiting lists of donors, where people die until they receive a compatible organ. However, in the future, with your own stem cells and a 3D printed matrix, you will be able to create your own kidney. That is possible, that is something that is being done.

4. What are the top 3 technology you're seeing in the medical industry?

Trend #1: 3D printing, for prostheses, medicines and even tissues. 3D printing is a factory in each hospital, being able to manufacture on demand any order. However, more needs to be developed.

Trend #2: Telemedicine, allowing people to access to accurate diagnoses from distant places. The fact that an electrocardiogram can be analyzed by a professional from kilometers away and that is able to give a diagnosis within minutes is something out of the ordinary. This can be done with any medical analysis and is only a matter of having a network that interconnects the points.

Trend #3: Artificial intelligence will be a tool to predict diseases, to diagnose and even to treat in an automated way taking into account data from millions of medical records and medical studies such as clinical analysis and imaging, making diagnostic costs much more accessible.

5. Why is the medical industry ripe for disruption?

MA: A few days ago, I attended a conference at the Asuncion Chapter of Singularity University, where it was said that exponential technologies go through different stages. First, creation. Then, disappointment and a sequence as it follows: implementation, disruption, exponentiality to finally reach democratization. The same happened with the vaccine or the first digital photographs.

I believe that many of the technologies I mentioned above have already passed the stage of deception. 3D printing, artificial intelligence, telemedicine, all of them went through problems, and both, the world and the tools that exist now, allow us to begin with implementation. The more people and companies implement these technologies, the more chances for disruption to happen, involving more and more people and changing the rules of the game.

The best is seeing when technology becomes an everyday thing and reaches everyone without any issues.

About Mateo Acosta

Production Manager at Po Paraguay with four years of experience in FDM 3D printers. Founder of the 3D Printing Community of Paraguay with more than 300 members.

Multifaceted, enterprising, nerd, creative, inventor, social agent, change agent, focused, kind-hearted, inspiring, bearded, generous, funny and kind.

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