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Many 3D Printed Hands Make Light Work

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The rugged, replaceable, customizable, lightweight, and low cost nature of 3D printing technology make it ideal to make prosthetics for children, who quickly outgrow and/or wear them out.

E-nable is an online community of volunteers, parents, makers, and medical professionals committed to providing 3D printed prosthetics to children who need them.

Dr. Gloria Gogola, a pediatric hand surgeon at Shriners Hospitals for Children-Houston collaborated with E-nable and volunteer bioengineering students and faculty from Rice University to help children and parents build their own prosthetics. She published a paper along with two other researchers last week summarizing their work in The Journal of Hand Surgery to explain the advantages of using 3D printing for children’s prosthetics to other surgeons.

At almost a hundredth of the cost of traditional prosthetics, for $50 as opposed to $4,000, they are comparable to the price of a pair of shoes.

A recent Upworthy story told the “origin story” of E-nable. Blogger cdmalcolm gave an overview of E-nable’s charity work in a post for Embodi3D about a year ago.

Since then, membership in the E-nable Google+ group has doubled, reaching over 8,000 members as of this publication. They have brought hands to 40 countries around the world, providing them for free to children in need.

The recent story of four-year-old Anthony from Chile posted on enablingthefuture.org’s blog illustrates the process each child follows to get a new hand.

Because Anthony does not have a wrist, the joint powering most of E-nable’s devices, he needed an elbow actuated device. Anthony’s mother took his measurements and decided with the volunteers’ help that the Team Unlimbited Arm was the best fit.

Parents and children can also choose to help design, customize, print, and build the hands themselves. According to Jon Schull, the founder of E-nable, they take about three hours to print, and two hours to build, for $5 worth of raw material. Two big repositories for free designs are available from the National Institutes of Health and Enablingthefuture.org.

Volunteers helped print the arm and gave it to Anthony for a trial period to test the fit. They realized a he needed a thermoplastic cast for a comfortable, snug fit on his small arm.

Francisco and Anthony

Volunteer Francisco Nilo and Anthony sharing an obligatory fistbump. Photo credit: ProHand3D and Enablingthefuture.org

Coordinating was challenging as Anthony lived in Valparaiso, on the Pacific coast, a two hour drive northwest of Santiago, where the volunteers and 3D printing company, ProHand3D, were located.

Finally, local Santiago tattoo artist and illustrator Cesar Castillo painted the device with Spider Man designs, Anthony’s favorite superhero.

Spider-Man Arm

Final Spider-Man arm. Photo credit: ProHand3D and Enablingthefuture.org

To continue with more fun themes, in January of this year E-nable began having design contests every month. This month’s theme is Steampunk and the winner will receive copperfill and bronzefill filament coils, social media fame, and have their device displayed at the Maker Faire in Nantes, France. Past themes included Star Wars and task-specific devices.

Each hand is as unique as its child owner. Chile volunteer Francisco Nilo said of Anthony, “His mom shared with us that since Anthony received his Spiderman arm, he uses it all the time, even for sleeping! We know no one uses these devices all day long, but perhaps the superhero design has influenced him just a bit!”

People interested in volunteering for E-nable or those interested in procuring a prosthetic hand for a child may visit http://enablingthefuture.org/ and contact letsgetstarted@enablingthefuture.org


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