3D-printed splints may make life better for arthritis sufferers (Wired UK)


University of Loughborough


If you’ve ever had to wear a splint on any part of your body
you’ll know that not only are they uncomfortable, but they can be
chunky and ugly too. But that may not be the case for much
longer.

A researcher from the University of Loughborough has developed a new computer software
concept
that will allow doctors to customise and 3D print
breathable, stylish, slimline splints even if they have no
experience using computer aided design software (CAD). The aim of
the software is to allow those with no real knowledge of design to
create wrist splints for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.

“I wanted to give clinicians the ability to make splints they
have not been able to make before,” said Abby Paterson, the PhD
student who created the software. “They can improve the aesthetics,
the fit, and integrate extra bits of functionality they couldn’t do
before.”

Using an Objet Connex machine, the splint can be printed as an
integrated object made up of many different materials. This allows
for features such as rubber hinges and padding. Not only are the
splints lighter and more attractive, but they are also cheaper to
produce as the design and manufacture process, which used to have
been done together, can be separated out. As the splints are so
customisable in terms of colour, fit, fastenings and latticework,
it’s also likely that people would wear them more — in which case,
they would be more cost-effective for organisations like the
NHS.

The software is still currently in the prototype phase and
Paterson believes it will take around 18 months before it is
completely ready. In the meantime, she is currently pursuing a cost
analysis. The new splints definitely sport better designs than
their predecessors, but if it also appears that they will be much
better value to create, there is likely to be huge demand for the
service — both in terms of doctors and patients.

Around 400,000 people in the UK suffer from rheumatoid arthritis
and the splints provide pain relief, rest and joint protection. The
reaction from medical professionals who deal with the condition has
been positive according to Paterson. “The practitioners were very
excited by new, novel ideas to expand the possibilities available
to them, such as integrated rubber borders for increased comfort,”
she said.

Paterson and Richard Bibb, also of Loughborough University,
believe they need some funding in order to perfect the CAD
software, but that otherwise there is no reason why the technology
won’t be taken up by hospitals. “We are in the development phase.
The research has proved that this is desirable and the clinicians
want it. We know there’s lots of potential,” said Bibb.

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Source: wired.co.uk
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