Helping Helen...

Creating a world-first medical device at Salford Eagle Lab

Author’s profile picture

James Medd

Lab Engineer, The Landing


Lab engineer James Medd talks us through the creation of a world-first medical device in Salford Eagle Lab @ The Landing, MediaCityUK:

“One bright morning in November 2017, I had a somewhat daunting day ahead of me: I was to sit down with 6 different clinical teams from our local hospital – Salford Royal Foundation Trust (SRFT) – to discuss how our facilities might help them. I held my hand up at the start of each session, admitting that, other than attending a handful seminars and reading some fascinating articles, my clinical knowledge was in its infancy. Still, I was happy to offer whatever support I could give from a design and technology perspective.”

“I needn’t have worried, as it seemed the clinical staff had a similar anxiety about entering our lab, being confronted with 3D printers for the first time, and wondering just what these machines could do to help them. I decided to take the approach of talking through the processes these clinicians regularly had to go through, examining how they might be enhanced, streamlined, or simplified with the aid of rapid prototyping techniques.”

“After enlightening a couple of teams with some examples of how rapid prototyping is being used in the world of medicine, I sat down with the highly enthusiastic anaesthesiology team, lead by Dr. Glyn Smurthwaite. Earlier that year, they’d successfully performed a corrective procedure for a patient with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), returning quality of life to a man whose chin had been fixed at chest height as a result of his condition. It was no mean feat to perform the operation: positioning a patient safely for a 15 hour procedure can be difficult enough, even without the physical complications introduced by AS. They’d been forced to smash together lots of existing patient-positioning solutions, something that was both time-consuming and expensive, and something they suspected might be made easier with 3D printing.”

“Supporting a patient safely means having a custom fit solution that matches the shape of their body, in order to prevent pressure sores. This was something that we could sculpt in 3D software and print, although it would made even easier with a scan of the patient. Even though the team had seen hundreds of computed tomography (CT) scans before, they’d never been presented with a complete dataset in a 3D environment, where it’s possible to ‘zoom out’ from whatever internal tissue or bone is of interest to the clinician. Doing this reveals the surrounding parts of the patient’s anatomy, including the external topography of their body, something that I demonstrated to the team using an CT scan of a foot. Towards the end of this session, I demonstrated that by using a 3D model generated from this data, we could begin with a primitive cuboid shape and effectively carve out the shape of the patient’s body, producing a unique mould to create a custom-fit support.”

“The team have described this session as their ‘lightbulb’ moment. They were to leave behind the imperfect, hand-made, slow, and expensive solution used in 2017 (referred to as the ‘dark ages’ by Dr. Smurthwaite’s team) and produce a new mould with the 3D-printed technique. In spring of this year, I received 3D models from the hospital (created by Dr. Stuart Watson, our primary contact in SRFT’s R&D department) and began printing a mould for Helen, a patient who was being prepared for an equivalent operation. After some diligent work from the anaesthesiology team to ensure that the resulting support was accurate and safe, Helen’s surgery went ahead:”


“The development and deployment of this technique rewarded the hospital with huge savings in time and expense, as well as optimised patient safety. Already, they’re looking to optimise the process even further, and increase the number of patients with AS that they operate on each year. Coupled with this, we’ve helped to demonstrate the potential of rapid prototyping in the world of healthcare, and just how powerful a visit to Eagle Labs can be, whatever you’re looking to create.”

If you’ve got a process you think can be optimised through rapid prototyping, or an idea that you’re eager to bring to life, pay a visit to one of our Eagle Labs today.


James Medd is based at Salford Eagle Lab

Eagle Lab @ The Landing provides co-working space, access to expert mentoring networks, funding partners, event space and Digital Fabrication.

Explore this Lab

Want to join the conversation?

Login to start talking with the community below.


Share this page

Go back to the top of the page