A father of two who created a prosthetic arm for his son has seen his project develop even further with the launch of a trial involving 20 youngsters from around the world.
Ben Ryan’s Ambionics company is pioneering 3D-printed arms for children under three, with the trial having achieved a minimum viable product for testing.
Most of the children taking part are from Wales and the rest of the UK.
Others, however, are from several parts of Europe and a far afield as Australia, Africa, Canada and South America.
Ben, from Menai Bridge, initially set up his project in March 2015 after his son, Sol, was born with an undetected clot in his left arm, which led its being amputated just below the elbow joint.
Both he and wife Kate persuaded doctors to save as much of Sol’s lower arm function as possible.
Ben then went on to create the prosthetic limb for him, using a 3D printer and a Microsoft Xbox Kinect scanner.
He says he was driven to his innovation after being told by the NHS there was nothing they could do until Sol was at least a year-old.
Research into infant development shows that children who have prosthetics fitted early accept their powered prosthesis more easily than those that are fitted later.
Ambionics is now harnessing hydraulic technology to develop a unique method of operating a mechanical hand. This has been achieved without expensive motors or complex wire mechanisms.
Instead, by placing water-filled rubber sacks (actuators) at pressure points on the body – for example, under the arm – pressure can be generated by the user to operate the system.
Former psychology lecturer, Ben said: “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.”
Ambionics has been sponsored by RS Components, which has provided materials and design expertise from multinational software specialist Autodesk.
“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 in the UK and globally.” Ben added.
“We are actively fundraising to support the ongoing research and development of the product and to enable us to reach our end goal.”
To date, Ambionics has been supported by public donations via its website www.ambionics.co.uk.
The company will be one of the first tenants at the Menai Science Park (M-SParc) when it opens early next year.