Breaking the Mold in Orthotics

Summer 2017

Alex Mathews
Alex Mathews ’17 founded Fusiform with Param Shah.

As a high school student, junior Param Shah spent summers in the Himalayas, volunteering to provide rehabilitation support for children with disabilities. Through a nonprofit he founded, the Lotus Life Foundation, he provided orthotics to help kids with cerebral palsy, muscle deformities, or other conditions that affect walking gait.

But waiting for the devices to be cast by hand and delivered often took a month or more. And if a child had grown even slightly, he or she would suffer discomfort or sores from the ill-fitting device in the meantime.

“I thought, ‘How do we get better orthotics to these kids faster?’” Shah says.

Enter Fusiform. The med-tech startup, launched last year by Shah and Alex Mathews ’17, with a team of five other Johns Hopkins students, aims to develop a faster, cheaper, software-driven alternative to the tedious and costly hand-casting process that still dominates the orthotics industry.

Fusiform’s idea is to automate the process of making orthotics, using 3-D scanning along with modification software it’s developed. With an iPad or another tablet, a clinician can scan a 3-D image of a patient’s leg, for example, and then modify the model. From there, the clinician can manufacture the orthotic device with an automated shaping machine in a matter of hours. This efficiency is made possible by Fusiform’s modular design for orthotic devices—an innovation in its use of removable parts.

“It’s tackling a lot of inefficiencies in a process that hasn’t adapted since the 1970s,” says Mathews, a biomedical engineering major.

The team’s vision recently got a big boost from Accelerate Baltimore, which selected Fusiform as one of six startups to take part in its incubator program. Run by the Emerging Technology Centers, the four-month boot camp provides each team with $25,000 in seed money, along with mentoring and networking opportunities.

Simultaneously, Fusiform is getting further support by participating in Johns Hopkins’ own incubator, the Social Innovation Lab.

Fusiform tested both its modular cast design and its software with prospective clients throughout the spring.

For their work on Fusiform, Shah and Mathews were recently named to the annual Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the Manufacturing and Industry category.