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New Ways to Help Children in Need of Prosthetic Hands Find 3D Printers




Through the internet, news, and word of mouth, people are finding ways to help children gain access to 3D printed hands. A prime example is E-Nable, an online community founded by Jon Schull that aims to help children in need of prosthetic hands connect with a people who own 3D printers. The site is made up of volunteers; mainly designers, prosthetists, and 3D printing enthusiasts with access to a printer, who work together to design and produce prosthetics for children who are missing a hand or fingers.

While the site is less than two years old, its growth in popularity has allowed the community to give away more than 800 prosthetic limbs to children in need. A traditional prosthetic can cost thousands and thousands of dollars, while the new 3D alternatives cost less than $100. While most of the children who have been helped so far are from Western countries, Schull has a goal to reach out to children from impoverished regions, where even a $50 prosthetic would be prohibitively expensive.

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The first step in achieving this is by expanding the network of volunteers across the globe. The community is well on its way, with roughly 3,500 members participating. In December, a small group of E-Nable volunteers traveled to Haiti to start a dialogue with prosthetists at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Descapelles. By making connections with doctors in the less accessible regions of the world, the volunteers hope to give rural and impoverished children access to free prostheses.

Jon Schull isn’t the only one interested in 3D charitable giving—the Boys and Girl Scouts of America as well as several US schools have raised funds and accessed printers to create and distribute new hands for children. Recently the San Francisco Globe reported how students at Brenham High School were able to provide a newborn with a 3D printed hand. The baby, Kaedon, was born with an underdeveloped hand due to amniotic band syndrome. His mom knew the high school had a 3D printer and reached out them for help. The hand ended up being a great project for the computer science students, who vow to build Kaedon replacement hands as he grows.

The 3D printed hands E-Nable creates are much lower tech than the traditional motorized and battery operated prosthetics, but their functionality is astounding. Children can move and manipulate the fingers by flexing their wrist and pulling on artificial tendons in their new hand. The hands aren’t perfect, since the fingers must move together. Still, they are giving children the ability to do a lot of things that were impossible before, like playing sports or picking up a pen.



3D Gluck, another group making 3D printed hands, are producing more complex and personalized prosthetics. Tech Crunch recently posted a feature about Diego Corredor, a Colombian teenager who lost his hand at birth. Corredor was able to collaborate with 3D Gluck to create a prosthetic that is specifically designed to allow him to play the guitar.


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