Pioneering 3D printed arms for children under three years old have moved a step closer with the launch of a beta trial involving 20 youngsters around the world.
North Wales-based company Ambionics is undertaking the trial having achieved a minimum viable product for testing.
Founder Ben Ryan set up Ambionics after his son, Sol, was born in March 2015. An undetected clot in his arm following a forceps delivery meant that surgeons had to amputate just below the elbow joint after Ben persuaded them to save as much of his son’s lower arm function as possible.
Research into infant development shows that higher rejection rates occur when children are fitted with prosthetic devices after the age of two, while another study reveals that those fitted early accept their powered prosthesis more easily than those fitted later.
Ambionics is making use of hydraulic technology to develop a unique approach to operating a mechanical hand. This has been achieved without expensive motors, control systems and batteries, or complicated wire and lever mechanisms and harnesses.
Instead, by placing water-filled actuators at pressure points on the body, pressure can be generated by the user to operate the system. The technology is inspired by how nature allows spiders’ legs to actuate using hydraulic pressure.
Ben said: “Each arm created is customised to the user from a 3D scan of their limb. Parents usually perform the scan at home while their children are asleep. Once this is done they send us the file. We clean up the scan data then design and supply test sockets followed by the full arm system.
“Most of the children taking part in the trial are from Wales and the rest of the UK, but we also have youngsters in Europe, Australia, Africa, Canada and South America.
“The trial moves us a significant step further forward towards the commercialisation of our technology which can be a real game-changer for children under the age of three.
“The NHS takes 11 weeks to convert the plaster cast of an arm into a wearable prosthetic, whereas Ambionics can produce one in less than five days. Scans are kept on file making it easy for replacement prosthetics to be produced through 3D printing. The trial is the next exciting step on our journey to make fully functioning, cost-effective, 3D-printed hydraulic prosthetics available to children under three years old in the UK and globally.”