PhD student Janitha Jeewantha with Associate Professor Jayantha Epaarachchi . Picture : Supplied
Old problem , new thinking
New smart plaster a ‘ turning point ’ in orthopaedic care .
By Elise Hartevelt
With 170,000 Australians breaking a bone annually , University of Southern Queensland PhD student Janitha Jeewantha thought it was time to rethink the old way of casting injuries .
With help from his professor , Jeewantha developed a hybrid shape memory polymer ‘ smart plaster ’ which has been shown to wrap around a fractured limb more efficiently than traditional Paris ( POP ) and fibreglass casts .
“ The smart plaster is lightweight , has less setting time , is easy to apply , and the process is cleaner and quicker ,” Jeewantha told Nursing Review .
“ A major benefit is that it allows multiple alterations , which is not possible with a traditional cast .”
Most hospitals in Australia still use the 19th-century POP and fibreglass casts , which have been found to be unhygienic , heavy and cumbersome .
“ POP and fibreglass casts often report pressure sores , create compartment syndrome , and limit blood flow to arteries and muscles during swelling ,” Jeewantha said .
“ Therefore , cell damage may occur sooner when temperature and pressure are coupled , leading to ulcers , nerve damage , or permanent loss of body parts .”
The new plaster allows doctors or nurses to control the pressure between the fabric and skin , reducing the chance of nerve damage .
The process also takes less than 10 minutes , whereas POP requires around 45 minutes to set completely .
“ We included a secondary locking mechanism , which makes it easy to remove and doesn ’ t require a saw that can scare kids ,” Jeewantha said .
Proper cast care is important in lowering the risk of complications after the cast is removed .
Jeewantha says his creation can greatly assist nurses in rural areas who often lack staff or medical equipment .
According to federal health statistics , people living in rural and regional areas are more likely to obtain an injury and have poorer access to medical services than those living in metropolitan areas .
“ Smart plaster is ideal for first aid and emergencies in remote or isolated locations where required medical facilities and assistance are not available or accessible ,” Jeewantha said .
Jeewantha ’ s plaster is also made of biocompatible material , which releases less
“ It allows multiple alterations , which is not possible with a traditional cast .
environmentally unfriendly chemicals in the air than POP plasters .
“ Shape memory polymers can recover their original shape after being deformed , which means our smart plaster can also be reused ,” he said .
“ Well-known biocompatible polymers are expensive and not freely available in the commercial market .
“ Therefore , we were careful to use commercially available low-cost biocompatible epoxy polymers during the smart plaster synthesis process .”
Associate Professor Jayantha Epaarachchi , who supervised the development of the plaster , said the new plaster could be the new standard of injury care in the years to come .
“ We have done our part to produce a material that can provide comfort to patients , flexibility to doctors for frequent observation , easy and less time-consuming application for nurses and is relatively cheap and recyclable ,” Epaarachchi said .
“ This would be a turning point in the orthopaedic treatment process .” ■
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