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Automating the design and production of customised face masks for children with facial differences who need breathing support

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Over 2,000 children in the UK currently need non-invasive ventilation (NIV) to support their breathing at home – and for most, this will be a lifelong need.[1] But ‘off the shelf’ face masks are often a poor fit for children especially those with facial differences – and they may need to have invasive ventilation instead. Dr Connor Myant at Imperial College London is aiming to deliver a fully automated process to design and produce customised face masks. He hopes this will lead to well-fitting masks becoming more readily available for all children with facial differences – improving the effectiveness of NIV and enhancing their quality of life.

This project is jointly funded by Action Medical Research and LifeArc and supported by a generous grant from the VTCT Foundation.

How are children’s lives affected now?

Non-invasive ventilation (NIV) is the delivery of oxygen via a face mask connected via tubing to a machine. For example, it may be needed to provide long-term breathing support for children with chronic lung conditions in the comfort of their own homes.

“To work effectively, NIV requires a mask that fits tightly over the child’s mouth and nose,” says Dr Myant. “But many children who need NIV have rare conditions that lead to facial differences – and ‘off the shelf’ masks are often unsuitable due to a poor fit, especially as there are fewer sizes available for children than adults.”

If a suitable mask can’t be found, a child may need to have an operation to make an opening in the neck directly into their trachea (breathing tube). But invasive ventilation is generally more challenging for children and their families to manage at home than NIV.

“The best way to improve mask fit is to make a customised face mask for each child with facial differences,” says Dr Myant. “But currently, this is a very labour-intensive, costly and lengthy process, limiting its accessibility for patients.”

How could this research help?

“We’re aiming to develop a fully automated design process to produce customised NIV masks for children,” says Dr Myant.

The team will apply 3D scanning technology, computer-aided design and 3D printing to automate mask design and production. The first step will involve using a handheld scanner to capture a detailed 3D map of the child’s face – avoiding the need for direct contact, making the process more child-friendly than other methods.

“We will compare current mask customisation methods with our new automated process – looking at how well the masks fit, speed of production and cost-effectiveness,” says Dr Myant.

Establishing a process for the automated design of customised face masks, which is accurate and can accommodate children with facial differences could significantly improve device performance, reduce costs and speed up turnaround time.

“We hope this will lead to customised face masks becoming more readily available for all children,” says Dr Myant.

By improving the effectiveness of NIV, this would reduce the need for invasive alternatives – reducing the need for hospital stays and providing children with a better quality of life at home with their families.

Dr Myant

Research table

Project details

Project Leader Dr Connor Myant, PhD CEng DIC Exon Hons
Location Dyson School of Design Engineering, Imperial College London
Project Team Professor Heather E Elphick, MBChB MRCP MD
Other Locations Department of Respiratory Medicine, Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust
Grant Amount £249,024
Duration 24 months
Grant Code (GN number) GN3021


  1. Barker et al., Changes in UK paediatric long-term ventilation practice over 10 years. Arch Dis Child. 2012; 108(3):218-224.


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