How medical innovations are making life-changing differences

A new series of films by Sandvik show the huge impact the company’s technology is having on people living with disease and disability.


Medical wire that stops the trembling caused by Parkinson’s disease. Precision tools that can manufacture tailored prosthetic limbs durable and flexible enough to race down snowy slopes. And 3D-printing technologies that can create skull and spinal implants in just a few hours. With new and improved technology, the potential for helping people who suffer from physical disabilities has never been greater.

Some of the recent advances in the medical sector are so groundbreaking they can be hard to grasp. At global engineering group Sandvik, one of the fastest growing segments is medical, where the company develops products and components which play an essential part in solutions that are changing people´s lives for the better.

In a new film, Sandvik celebrates some truly inspirational people who have been helped to live a normal life again with the help of medical innovations and solutions.

“Our products in the medical field are rarely seen since they are often a part of the manufacturing process or embedded in another device. Now we want to highlight the fascinating work happening within the medical sector and invite more people and partners to join us and help advance the world of medical innovations even further,” says Jessica Alm, Executive Vice President and Head of Communications at Sandvik Group

Examples of conditions and disabilities where Sandvik´s innovations are part of life-changing solutions are diabetes, Parkinson´s disease, hearing loss and physical injuries caused by accidents. Sandvik´s super-thin medical wires, machining tools and cutting-edge knowledge within 3D printing are important stepping stones on the route back to a life in which the impact of disability is minimised.

But don´t take Sandvik´s word for it. Watch the in-depth films, starring people who have experienced the emotional rollercoaster that comes with living with a disability, but managed to find a way back to an everyday life.

The man with the battery-operated brain

At the age of 35, Andrew Johnson assumed, like most people, that Parkinson’s disease mainly affects the elderly. That was until the successful lawyer and devoted father began to experience small tremors in his right hand. Early-onset Parkinson’s gripped every aspect of Johnson’s life until implanted electrodes, a neurostimulator and minute conductive wires from Sandvik helped him regain control.

While typically associated with trembling, Parkinson’s can affect the entire body, including cognitive skills, motor function, vision and muscle behaviour. After a year of doctor’s appointments, Johnson was diagnosed with early onset idiopathic Parkinson’s disease. Once a senior lawyer at one of New Zealand’s ‘Big Four’ banks, the cognitive challenges of his made his career impossible.

“When taking notes, my handwriting would be too small to decipher. I learned this change was micrographia, one of many secondary motor symptoms of Parkinson’s. I was terrified of making any reputation-destroying errors, so I resigned,” says Johnson.

As the disease progressed, Johnson struggled to find a treatment that would allow him to live comfortably. At times, he’d be rigid and stuck, unable to move. Other times, he’d be flailing wildly, suffering from involuntary movements known as dyskinesia. “What hurt most was being unable to be the kind of husband and father I wanted to be, due to the limitations imposed by this ever-changing disease,” said Johnson. “I struggled for a long time with the loss of my identity.”

Approximately two years after his diagnosis, Johnson’s neurologist raised the possibility of deep-brain stimulation (DBS) surgery. Usually offered at least ten years after diagnosis, recent research indicates that having DBS earlier may prolong the longevity and efficacy of treatment in early onset Parkinson’s. Johnson was approved for the surgery in 2012.

Surgeons precisely place electrodes into the brain site carrying the abnormal signals that produce the patient’s symptoms, using a thin probe called a lead. A wire attached to the lead runs through the body, where it connects to a battery-operated neurostimulator. The system, often called a brain pacemaker, regulates the abnormal signals that the patient’s disease causes.

To achieve the required precision, the wire that connects the electrodes to the neurostimulator is just 0.1 mm. Sandvik created it as part of the EXERA fine medical wire range.

“A DBS device typically uses multiple wires in a very small space”, explains Gary Davies, manager at Exera, Sandvik Materials Technology’s business unit for medical wire manufacturing. “The wires usually have a dielectric coating, so they don’t short circuit each other and disrupt the signal that is being sent to the nerve. This has to be done in a precise and reliable way, as we don’t want to introduce stimulation in places or in ways it isn’t required.”

Now a father to two teenagers, Johnson spends much of his time chauffeuring them between activities and taking on the role of stay-at-home parent. He’s read 86 books so far in 2020 - an important part of keeping his brain active.

“There are so many things I can do now that would have been impossible before the surgery. I can read without my head or hands shaking so much that everything blurred, and I can participate fully in family life - no longer reduced to being a spectator,” he says.

EXERA fine medical wire from Sandvik is used in many medical device technologies, from sensing solutions to cochlear therapy and vascular remediation. Find out more about its uses at exera.sandvik.

Parkinson’s disease and deep brain stimulation

Parkinson's disease is one of the most common neurological conditions in the world. More than 10 million people worldwide are currently living with it and there is no cure.

An estimated four per cent of sufferers are diagnosed with Parkinson’s before the age of 50.

Men are 1.5 times more likely to get Parkinson’s disease than women.

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery observed that more than half of Parkinson’s patients who received deep-brain stimulation surgery survived for ten years or longer, depending on their condition prior to treatment.

In addition to Parkinson’s disease, DBS can also treat conditions including dystonia, epilepsy and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Currently, scientists are exploring DBS as a potential treatment for other conditions like depression, dementia, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and Tourette’s syndrome.

Heart - and leg - of a champion

Life presents each of us with challenges from time to time, but rarely is the challenge the loss of a limb. In an instant, the ability to climb a staircase or tie a shoe – things that most people take for granted – can suddenly become far more difficult. This was the case with Mike Schultz, but he refused to let that event prevent him from making the most of his life.

‘Monster’ Mike Schultz, a snowmobile racer since his high school days, went pro in 2003, and within five years was one of the top five Snocross racers in the world. But an accident one winter day in 2008 changed everything.

“I had a bad start during the qualifying race and was pushing hard to catch up so I could make the finals,” says Schultz. “Coming down a hill, though, I got bucked off the sled and landed wrong. My knee basically blew apart.”

Things quickly went from bad to worse. A nearby snowstorm grounded all helicopter flights that day, so Schultz had to ride by ambulance to the nearest trauma centre. “It was five hours before I got to a trauma surgeon,” he says. “They tried to save it, but three days after the accident I’d gone through 47 units of blood and my kidneys were shutting down. The doctors woke me up to tell me they were amputating my leg.”

Schultz spent 13 days in hospital. “I rebounded pretty quickly because of my physical condition,” he says. “They sent me home on Christmas Day. Five weeks later I had my first prosthetic leg. To be able to walk again was an amazing feeling.” Despite this, Schultz thought his racing days were over. “I didn’t want to race if I couldn’t compete at the level I did before. I kind of wrote it off.”

But several months later, he heard about the X Games Supercross Adaptive sports competition and knew then that he had to give it a try. The problem was finding a suitable prosthetic, one that would not only help him compete, but actually win.

“I knew of one sport-capable prosthesis, meaning it had a coil-over shock, but it was designed for downhill skiing,” he says. “The spring rates are too stiff, and the range of motion isn’t anywhere near the 135 degrees needed for snowmobiling.” That’s when Schultz began thinking about alternatives.

With an indefatigable spirit and a little help from friends in the racing community, he soon designed and built one ideal for extreme sports. 

“I had some drafting classes in high school, which is about the extent of my engineering education,” he says. “But I think mechanically, and I’ve always been a problem-solver, so I just listed what I needed the knee to do, the function of it. It had to absorb shock. It had to bend at least 135 degrees. And it had to be adjustable for different sporting activities.”

Schultz wanted to use a Fox mountain bike shock absorber as the guts of his new prosthesis. Within a month, Schultz had a good working drawing, which he took to a nearby shop.

“They gave me a quick rundown on how to use the mill and the lathe and turned me loose,” he says. “I machined the first one. I remember the feeling when I pulled the parts out of the mill, bolted it all together and stuck it on my leg. I got on a dirt bike that same day, grinning ear to ear. It was an amazing feeling. I could stand up on the bike, balanced, just like I had two good legs. The first time I pinned the throttle, I was the happiest guy in the world. Right there I knew I’d be able to do some pretty cool stuff with this.”

Less than five months after the accident, Schultz and his new knee raced motocross at Michigan’s Extremity Games, qualifying him for the 2009 ESPN Summer X Games Supercross. “Participating in an event like that was a real eye-opener,” says Schultz. “It opened me up to relationships with other amputees, where I could learn stuff from them, and them from me. From that point on, it’s been a whole new world.”

Over the past eleven years, Monster Mike has made a name for himself in the world of adaptive sports, taking home ten gold medals in the Motocross, Snocross, and Snow Bike categories at the X Games competition, as well as gold and silver at the 2018 Winter Paralympics.

Schultz’s name spread even further from his appearance in videos about modern manufacturing and innovation for the Edge Factor. The show was sponsored at the time by Sandvik Coromant, which offers a large range of advanced tooling and machining solutions for medical devices: hip joints, bone screws, pedicle screws, dental implants and bone plates.

“As Sandvik is the global leader in metal-cutting technology and innovation, it’s part of our responsibility to help our customers be successful in their endeavors as well as to help people outside the industry to understand the value of metal cutting in modern life,” says senior project leader JoAnn Mitchell, Sandvik Coromant USA, about the sponsorship.

Now called the Moto Knee, Schultz’s prosthetic component consists of a mountain bike shock and a compressed air spring that allow the knee to flex and provide a full range of motion. Schultz also adapted the Versa Foot, which helps elite adaptive athletes and recreational sports fans participate in activities. His work on high-performance prosthetics has led him to open his own manufacturing company, BioDapt, which markets the Moto Knee and Versa Foot. The business has already support hundreds of users.

“I’m committed to showing myself and others what an adaptive athlete is capable of with some motivation, hard work and the right equipment,” says Shultz.

Learn more about Sandvik’s machining solutions, for medical devices and other applications, at sandvik.coromant.com.

Prosthetic technology and sport

The World Health Organization estimates that 30 million people need prosthetic and orthotic devices.

Approximately 185,000 people go through an amputation every year in the United States — 300 to 500 amputations every 24 hours.

There are currently 28 Paralympic sports sanctioned by the International Paralympic Committee – 22 summer and six winter.

The X Games is an annual extreme sports event hosted, produced, and broadcast by ESPN

The Games holds both Snocross and adaptive Snocross events. Mike Schultz is a 10 times X Games Gold Medallist, in events including adaptive Snocross, Snobikecross and moto X.

As of 2019, Schultz is a nine-time X Games Gold Medallist and a Gold and Silver Medallist in the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in snowboarding.

A tiny wire with a big responsibility

At first glance, Amanda Rosengren looks like any other teenager. She might seem fixated on her smartphone, but Amanda is doing something far more important than scrolling through her social media feeds. Amanda has type one diabetes, and her phone — alongside a device containing a tiny wire created by Sandvik — help monitor her glucose levels without the need for daily testing.

Type one diabetes is a life-long disease that can be very dangerous if blood sugar levels are not constantly monitored and adjusted with insulin. Amanda received her diagnosis aged four, and her diabetes soon began to put pressure on her family’s life. They were incredibly vigilant when managing Amanda’s glucose levels, and it wasn’t long before her tiny arms were covered in needle marks — a consequence of the traditional pin-prick glucose monitoring method.

“We were constantly operating with caution,” explains Helen Blomqvist, Amanda’s mother. “Monitoring Amanda’s blood sugar levels was a full-time job, especially as she was diagnosed so young and couldn’t take any responsibility herself. Using needles all the time wasn’t easy.”

In 2013, the family heard about continuous glucose monitor (CGM) devices that measures tissue glucose 24 hours a day. Amanda’s mother liked the idea of her daughter seeing her glucose value at any time, and the trend direction the value is moving in. A CGM is comprised of three components — monitor, transmitter and sensor. The sensor is among the most critical parts; thinner than a needle, it measures the body’s interstitial glucose level (the glucose found in the fluid between the cells) every few minutes. It does this using a chemical reaction involving glucose oxidase, an enzyme that helps convert glucose to hydrogen peroxide. Electrical signals are generated when the hydrogen peroxide reacts with the platinum-based sensor, and this electrical current is transmitted through a tiny wire. A higher electrical current indicates higher levels of glucose.

Amanda’s medical diabetic team suggested she should test a CGM in 2014. The new technique proved successful and provided Amanda with a new lease of life. Since Amanda’s blood levels are constantly monitored and registered in a smartphone app, both Amanda and her family have benefitted from new-found freedom and spontaneity. Today, Amanda is an avid gymnast and carefree 13-year-old.

Alongside the CGM, Amanda also has an insulin pump attached to her stomach, which automatically delivers the right dose of insulin according to the measurements the app recommends.

“Constantly monitoring the blood sugar levels of a diabetic was a never-ending dance between eating and insulin injections to keep the blood sugar at a steady level,” says Blomqvist. “Amanda’s levels fluctuated a lot, so were especially difficult to monitor. The CGM provides us with much more reassurance, it has an alarm function integrated into the system, so we sleep much better knowing that we’ll be awakened if Amanda’s blood sugar levels get too high or low.”

The device Amanda uses includes EXERA fine medical wires from Sandvik, which can be developed for multiple sensing technologies including glucose monitoring, temperature and electrical pressure devices. The polymer-coated precision wire that transmits the device’s electrical currents was inserted under the skin of Amanda’s arm.

“The EXERA wire really showcases the power of micro technology,” explains Gary Davies, head of the medical business unit at Sandvik Materials Technology. “Its small size and high quality make it ideal for use in medical devices implanted inside humans. Usually, these types of wire are most commonly found in consumer electronics.

“The wires are not simply devices that enable other functions in medical devices to work. Here, the wire actually works as the sensor — it’s the business end of the CGM device. For people like Amanda, the freedom and autonomy that tech like the CGM provides is life-changing.”

EXERA fine medical wire from Sandvik is used in many medical device technologies, from sensing solutions to cochlear therapy and vascular remediation. Find out more about its uses at exera.sandvik.

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