The Science Cities Research Alliance has been engaged by a number of private companies working in the fields of Advanced Materials, Energy Futures and Translational Medicine. Ron Taylor, Director at Torc2, shared his company’s experience of partnering with SCRA.
Tell us a little about Torc2
Torc2 aims to improve the level of care for those with limb conditions that require regular correction involving splinting or casting. We initially planned to develop an alternative to the Plaster of Paris method for limb immobilisation but were advised by Members of Warwick Medical School to concentrate on more niche splint applications. We based our project on our research into polymeric materials that would phase-change from solid to malleable gel and back again in the temperature range 37 degrees (normal body temperature) to 59 degrees, which is close to the upper limit for human tolerance.
What was catalyst for requesting Warwick’s expertise on the project?
The existing modelling process for splint manufacture involves taking a plaster cast of the affected part of the body, which is cut in two and removed. A silicone pattern of the inside of the cast is then sent to an orthotics company to shape a high-temperature plastics splint from sheet material. This system is pretty inefficient and can take up to 3 months. One-third of splints have to be rejected due to incorrect fitting as these cannot be adjusted directly on the patient. We needed the advice of Orthopaedic Specialists from WMS to describe the processes and define both clinician and patient needs.
Why did Torc2 choose to partner with Warwick? What expertise did Warwick offer Torc2?
Warwick Medical School’s orthopaedic specialists helped us determine how viable it would be to produce splinting with this method. They were impressed by the concept and felt that the most effective use for the system would be in niche splinting applications such as AFOs, Spica Casts and Lower Limb Prosthetic Socket Liners.
How did the partnership work?
We are developing a system of 3-D modelling splints directly from scanning data of affected limbs using the torc material that can be re-shaped many times at 56-60°C, but which on cooling back to body temperature becomes a rigid support structure again. A materials blend was eventually created and tested at the temperature range required using a Dynamic Mechanical Thermal Analysis machine at Warwick’s Digital Lab. We then worked with IIPSI to create extruded filament for 3D FDM printed splints. This process when fully refined will allow the manufacture of bespoke orthotics within 24-72 hours instead of weeks.
How will the developments help customers?
For AFO users the time from assessment to fitting will be greatly reduced and the ability to easily make fit alterations for maximum comfort will be of considerable benefit.
The use of the torc material in Spica casts for patients with extreme hip dysplasia will remove the need for further general anaesthesia in theatre to remove and re-fit new casts beyond the 5-6 weeks period that each cast can remain on the patient due to tightness occurring through growth. Repeated GA can be dangerous for very young patients, and should an emergency arise, theatres may not be immediately available to remove the cast. Major problems with hygiene will be alleviated and significant savings associated with the high cost of the theatre/ medical team will be achieved.
For lower limb amputees, the major issue is the need for a really close fit of the socket to the residual limb, to avoid pressure sores developing. The use of a torc socket liner which can be easily altered by the amputees themselves at home as the shape of their residual limb changes will considerably reduce the need for continual visits to their orthotist.
What has the partnership with Warwick achieved for Torc2?
From the initial ground-breaking meeting with WMS we have continued to benefit from the advice and guidance from highly respected orthopaedic surgeons who have expressed their belief in the project and the benefits that will follow from the clinical approval and implementation of the various cast and splint products under development.
Were there any Warwick/Torc2 partnership R&D breakthroughs?
The assistance from Warwick has been pivotal in the identification of the correct polymer blend, the confirmation of filament manufacture through extrusion trials and the positive early support from orthopaedic surgeons at WMS.
What can an academic partnership offer businesses?
Access to a whole raft of specialists in their respective fields plus assistance to solve technical issues with cutting edge technology.
What’s next for the product in relation to the project Warwick partnered on?
Successful clinical trials are the next major hurdle for the business as medical devices can only be used once the products have been proven to be effective.