A Biomedical Engineering PhD student at the University of Glasgow has teamed up with HP and Autodesk to produce a 3D-printed electroencephalography (EEG) headset to improve the recovery of spinal-cord injury (SCI) patients. EEG is a medical monitoring method to record electrical activity of the brain, with the headset designed to allow those who have suffered SCI to recover at home.

The device is made using the HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 4200 3D printer, in conjunction with Autodesk Fusion 360’s Generative Design software, and is designed to specifically help restore hand function. The new headset leverages Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) – low-energy electrical pulses to artificially generate body movements in individuals who have been paralysed due to central nervous system injuries.

At present, recovery for the UK’s estimated 50,000 SCI patients takes place within hospitals due to the complexity and bulk of existing technology. Lightweight, strong and entirely bespoke, the portable headset enables the patient to recover in the comfort of their own home, reducing the number of visits to the hospital for treatment, and relieving potential strain on the NHS’ rehabilitative wards.

In early iterations of prototyping, the PhD student behind the project, Nina Petric-Gray, modified gaming headsets with electrodes to record patients’ brain activity. However, the adjusted models were unsuitable as they did not allow for accurate electrode placement and were often too heavy and uncomfortable. The need for a bespoke prototype was clear. Autodesk’s Fusion 360 software helped Nina to transform her idea into a highly functional and bespoke 3D model that allowed for optimised electrode placement and increased usability.

As the design became more complex, Nina turned to HP 3D Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) printing to bring the product to life. HP MJF printing technology allows the headset to be fully customisable to the patient, ensuring that the electrodes are connected to the correct area of each person’s head. It also offers a fast and cost-effective approach to prototyping as updates to the design can be printed without having to create a new mould for each version, in turn reducing waste.

 “As the headset model evolved into something quite complex, it became clear that FDM printed models would no longer be suitable owing to the vast amounts of processing they required,” said Petric-Gray. “The first time I saw the HP MJF printed headset I was blown away, it showed real progress from earlier models. It was perfect right out of the box, where others needed post-production touch ups.”

MD for UK & Ireland at HP, George Brasher, said: “This is a fantastic example of the possibilities and potential of 3D printing in the health sector. We’re proud to be part of a project which aims to help aid the recovery of patients suffering with spinal-cord injury and look forward to supporting Nina’s team in the coming stages of testing and manufacturing.”

Petric-Gray added: “Although we’re only in the prototyping phase, 3D printing absolutely has the necessary advantages to be the means of end-product manufacture. The ability to produce something bespoke to the patient and in such a short timeframe is a win-win in manufacturing terms. The technology gives us the potential to print a headset that’s integrated, with both frame and electrodes printed as one unified part, without having to construct anything afterwards”.

The project is currently being trialled with patients in Glasgow, Scotland, with the aim to be put into production and available for SCI patients in the near future.

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