People who have suffered a life-changing injury are getting a helping hand at Morriston Hospital using innovative 3D printing technology.
Specialists at the hospital and a leading innovation centre in Cardiff have teamed up with patients to create and test 3D printed splints to protect and support the hands of people with brachial plexus injuries.
The brachial plexus nerves connect the spine to the upper limb and control movement and sensation in the arm and hand.
Depending on the severity of their injury, people can lose the use of their shoulder, elbow, hand or even their entire arm from the shoulder down.
Prototype splints are now being tested by two young sportsmen who both lost the use of their right arm because of brachial plexus injuries.
They have received treatment at the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery at Morriston Hospital, which provides an all-Wales service for people with such injuries.
They tend to affect younger, more active people, many of whom have to wear splints to protect their wrists and hands from injury and to maintain good position.
These splints are usually made of cloth and fastened with Velcro – but they are not particularly attractive and hard for the patient to do up themselves.
The Morriston-based service has the only two brachial plexus surgeons in Wales, Dean Boyce and Hywel Dafydd, as well as the only specialist brachial plexus physiotherapist, Marc Lloyd.
Marc said, ‘It’s a life-changing injury which means they may have to wear splints and supports for the rest of their life.
‘Many of our patients have no or little control over their arm or hand so they tend to flail around when the patients are walking.
‘The splint keeps their wrist and hand in a good position and provides protection from burns and blunt trauma.
‘The Velcro splints are difficult to get on and off with one hand. But they are also unattractive for a 20-year-old to wear. So we are trying to create something that is more functional, more wearable and desirable.’
The development of the 3D printed splints is the result of a three-way project between Marc, brachial plexus patient Tom Wheeler, and Dominic Eggbeer, Head of Surgical Design at PDR, the leading design consultancy and applied research centre located with Cardiff Metropolitan University.