A North Wales father has launched a company to develop cutting edge infant prosthetics after designing a revolutionary 3D-printed arm for his two-year-old son.
Ben Ryan, a former psychology lecturer from Anglesey, developed his own patented hydraulic system to help his son Sol, who lost most of his left arm following an injury at birth.
The unique system, inspired by how spiders’ legs move using hydraulic pressure, enables Sol’s left arm to grip and power a prosthetic.
A local health board described the technology as having the “potential to revolutionise” infant amputee care.
Mr Ryan and his brother Kevin have formed a company, Ambionics, to explore the technology further and have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £150,000.
“We want to use our unique technology to revolutionise paediatric prosthetics and to help children like Sol receive the very best quality care and support as early as possible,” said Kevin.
Sol (named after the solar eclipse on the day of his birth) was born in March 2015 with an undetected clot in his upper left arm. Surgeons advised amputation through the elbow joint but Mr Ryan and his wife Kate persuaded them to save as much of their son’s lower arm function as possible.
“After Sol was discharged, we learned that no further intervention would be offered through the NHS until he was at least a year old,” said Mr Ryan.
“It was likely to be three years before he could be fitted for an electric device. I thought I could do better for my son. By encouraging him to use both arms during this period of early brain development, we believed Sol would become more likely to adopt prosthetics later on.”
“Current prosthetic arm technology for infants dates back to the Victorian era in many cases. They are ugly and often rejected early on. Unfortunately, newer technologies are often unsuitable for children under three and there is evidence that the earlier function can be introduced the better.”
Mr Ryan introduced Sol to homemade foam arms from five weeks of age, and within minutes he began playing with toys.
Mr Ryan started to think about designs for a simple and reliable system that could be tailored to a child’s individual needs and which countered some of the restrictions from existing solutions.
So he approached Bangor university and with the help of world-leading 3D printing provider Stratasys made a 3D scan of Sol’s NHS-issued arm.
The first prototype socket was smooth, strong and considerably lighter than the original arm. The digital scan file could also be modified using design software to include the hydraulic mechanism Mr Ryan invented.
Within two months he had managed to design and print the first working system, though it was now too small for Sol to wear. Mr Ryan knew he needed to scan Sol’s arm, but was concerned he may not keep still long enough to produce a scan using the sensitive Artec scanner at Bangor.
He looked for another way and eventually used a £20 Microsoft Xbox Kinect scanner plugged in to his laptop to easily scan Sol’s arm while he was asleep.
Having taught himself the basics of product design and development using Fusion 360 software, Mr Ryan is now working closely with Autodesk’s Paul Sohi, who used the same software to design the world’s first 3D printed sports prosthetic for Rio Paralympic cyclist Denise Schindler, on further features for the device.
Mr Sohi said:
“It’s been inspiring to work on this innovative and ambitious project”.
“It is amazing that, despite Ben having no background in product design, he’s taught himself enough to create something that will not only help his own son Sol, but potentially lots of others facing the same challenges too.”
Mr Ryan is now using the workflow Mr Sohi showed him to alter the design so Sol can operate the thumb himself.
With financial support from family and friends, Mr Ryan has filed for 12 months international patent protection through Ambionics.
Ambionics has also been selected to take part in a Start-up Business Programme through the Life Sciences Hub Wales. Mr Ryan has also enrolled on the innovate2succeed programme through InnovateUK.
The company is also being helped by Stratasys, which is promoting Ambionics through its worldwide medical and manufacturing networks.
Dr Nefyn Williams, director of innovation at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, said: “Our research and development department supports the work being carried out at Ambionics, which has the potential to revolutionise the care of infants with upper limb differences.”
Mr Ryan has launched Indiegogo Crowd Funding campaign to secure enough funding to take the technology to the next level.
Ultimately Mr. Ryan would like to raise £1.7 million, but for now is hoping to raise £150,000 to complete development and get the required certification, which is critical to take it to the next stage
Mr. Ryan said:
“If we are lucky enough to smash our target and secure the £1.7m we ultimately need, this ensures we could recruit the experts we need, conduct two years of clinical trials, purchase our own equipment and most importantly, open the first Ambionics laboratory 12 months earlier than planned.”
To donate, visit: https://igg.me/at/ambionics