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Combined research and product design to improve service for breast cancer patients



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A Cardiff Met academic will showcase pioneering user-led designs at a Newton Fund Researcher Links workshop in South Africa, which will focus on how 3D design and digital technologies can be used to improve access to state-of-the-art healthcare services.

Dr Dominic Eggbeer is Head of Surgical & Prosthetic Design at PDR (International Centre for Design Research) at the University. Dr Eggbeer has worked on the application of advanced design engineering technologies in bespoke medical devices in collaboration with healthcare providers, industry, foundation organisations, charities and other teaching organisations since 2003. 

Bespoke devices are tailored in shape, mechanical, user and biological properties to meet the needs of individual people; they are not mass-produced. They are important because they can improve the accuracy and predictability of complex surgical procedures or enhance the rehabilitation process. This allows healthcare providers to avoid costly mistakes, avoid variation and to get it right first time. 

These collaborations have resulted in numerous innovations. Dominic and his team have worked particularly closely with the Maxillofacial Unit at Morriston Hospital and Singleton Hospital, Swansea since 1999. A recent project undertaken with Morriston and Singleton Hospitals has informed the development of more realistic and better fitting breast prostheses. The project aims to reduce the emotional impact of breast cancer on patients and their families. This meant working closely with breast prosthesis users and breast care nurses to understand their product and service needs. These needs were then used to develop the use of 3D design and fabrication technologies, such as 3D printing, in collaboration with skilled prosthetists at Morriston Hospital. 

This work has resulted in the development of bespoke prosthetic breasts for women who have undergone a mastectomy. It also features in MadeAtUni - a Universities UK campaign launching today (Dec 6th), which aims to bring to life the everyday impact that universities have on people, lives and communities in every part of the UK – we all benefit from the work of universities, whether we have been ourselves, or not.

Dominic Eggbeer, Head of Surgical & Prosthetic Design at PDR said: "We aim to identify new ways in which technology can help reduce the psychological impact of post-surgical rehabilitation. The ultimate objective of this project was to obtain insights and data that medical teams can use to develop new products and practices that better support patients through their cancer journey. This project has introduced a revolutionary new technique in response to the needs of the breast care team, and maxillofacial prosthetists at both hospitals."

This project illustrates one way in which advanced 3D design technologies can be applied to healthcare, and how, by making devices bespoke to user needs, can improve quality of life.

Peter Llewelyn Evans, Maxillofacial Laboratory Services manager at Morriston Hospital said, "The computer-aided methods and technology we have adopted as a result of our collaborations enable us to offer patients the best possible care. Innovations such as bespoke breast prosthesis offer a much more comfortable alternative to the wearer compared to off-the-shelf product.

The solution that we have refined also offers us a cost-effective alternative to traditional labour-intensive techniques. It will prove hugely important to post-mastectomy patients, particularly in terms of their overall well-being and confidence levels, which is a vital element of the recovery process."

The innovative new product and service is one of many examples, which is informing the sharing of best practice at this week's workshop in South Africa, which focuses on: Enabling Equitable Access to Health – Embracing New Design Technologies. Experts are discussing the production of patient specific devices between researchers and clinicians in the UK and SA.

Dr Eggbeer has co-organised the event with Prof. Yadroitsau from the Central University of Technology (CUT) in Free State, South Africa, where the workshop will be hosted. Facilities at CUT include the Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing (CRPM). The CRPM was established in 1997 as a centre for commercial work and research using Additive Manufacturing (AM), with a focus on medical products.

PDR's Surgical & Prosthetic Design (SPD) team have worked on the implementation of advanced computer aided design methods in healthcare since 1998. The team undertakes collaborative international research, training and provides an ISO 13485 accredited implant design service.  

The South Africa workshop was supported by a Newton Fund Researcher Links grant, ID 2017-RLWK8-10536, under the UK-South Africa Newton Fund.

The grant is funded by the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and delivered by the British Council. For further information, please visit www.newtonfund.ac.uk.

The Newton Fund builds research and innovation partnerships with 17 active partner countries to support their economic development and social welfare, and to develop their research and innovation capacity for long-term sustainable growth. It has a total UK Government investment of £735 million up until 2021, with matched resources from the partner countries.

The Newton Fund is managed by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and delivered through seven UK delivery partners, which include which includes UK Research and Innovation (comprising the seven research councils and Innovate UK), the UK Academies, the British Council and the Met Office. 

If you would like to read this story in Welsh, click here.