Abby Paterson, PhD, of Loughborough University, has developed a computer software concept that will enable clinicians with no experience in Computer Aided Design (CAD) to design and create custom-made 3D printed wrist splints for patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). According to a Loughborough University news release, the 3D printed splints are reportedly more comfortable and attractive, as well as potentially cheaper than current splints. The splints are designed to provide joint protection and rest, as well as promote pain relief.

The splints are made by scanning a patient’s arm in the proper position, and then designing a 3D model splint based on the scan to generate a computer model. The 3D printer can then produce as many splints as needed simply by touching a button. The splints can be any color, feature multiple materials, and have a lattice design to aid in ventilation. The wrist splints can also include any type of fastening the patient needs.

Paterson says, “I wanted to give clinicians the ability to make splints they have not been able to make before. They can improve the aesthetics, the fit, and integrate extra bits of functionality they couldn’t do before as a result of our Additive Manufacturing facilities here at Loughborough University.”

Paterson adds, “Thanks to our Objet Connex machine, we can integrate multiple materials in a single splint, such as rubber-like integral hinges or cushioning features, but, more importantly, the specialized software prototype we’ve developed will enable clinicians to design these splints for their patients.”

The 3D software prototype is the product of Paterson’s PhD, and development work is still needed on the software and materials. However, the prototype has been shown to certified splinting practitioners, such as physical and occupational therapists, and Paterson says, “The practitioners were very excited by new, novel ideas to expand the possibilities available to them, such as integrated rubber borders for increased comfort.”

Richard Bibb, who supervised Paterson during her PhD, states, “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.”

Photo Appears Courtesy of University of Loughborough

[Source: University of Loughborough]