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E-Nabling the Future is a volunteer organization dedicated to creating inexpensive 3D printable prosthetic hands and arms for children around the globe who are missing limbs. The movement has grown from an informal collaboration to a veritable movement, and they are now producing functional and inexpensive prosthetic limbs. Traditionally designed arm and hand prostheses can cost up to $40,000. According to 3Dprint.com, it is now possible to create an entire functional my electric arm for $350. Their most recent innovation uses electrical impulses from the bicep muscle to open and close the hand. This enabled a six-year-old boy named Alex who is missing his right arm to give his mother a big hug. The picture of Alex's myoelectric prosthetic right hand gave me a sense of déjà vu -- I swear I had seen something like this before. Then it hit me. The prosthetic is eerily similar to Luke's prosthetic hand in The Empire Strikes Back. Thanks to the volunteers at E-Nabling the Future, science fiction is becoming science fact, and children are the beneficiaries of this amazing movement. Please check out the E-Nabling the Future website, and if you are so inclined give a donation to this worthy cause. For updates on news and new blog entries, follow us on Twitter at @Embodi3D. Select images by Kt Crabb Photography
Cassidy, a tuxedo kitten with a white mustache and socks, lost his hind limbs from below the knee at birth. When he was found starving after nine weeks, his wounds infected with E. coli, the emergency vet recommended euthanasia. But Shelly Roche refused to give up on him. She runs the TinyKittens rescue operated out of Fort Langley, B.C., Canada, that specializes in lost causes. She nursed him back to health, with the Internet cheering him on. This video shows Cassidy walking with a leash and harness to hold up his rear end, then getting a little wheelchair and finally running around and bounding off his rear leg stumps. Cassidy as a young kitten trying his 3D printed wheelchair. Photo credit: CatChannel.com Two local high school students made him a wheelchair using their school’s 3D printer. This was not the last time 3D printing would help Cassidy. Handicapped Pets Canada also provided one that he used up until recently. Now that Cassidy has outgrown his wheelchairs, he gets around riding Roche’s Roomba. But the Roomba is only a temporary solution. Cassidy is being fitted for prosthetic leg extensions. Last week, in the first step toward receiving prosthetics, Cassidy got Botox injections to relax the muscles of his rear legs, for ongoing physical therapy. Roche said of Cassidy’s prosthetics, "I'm not sure if they use titanium or carbon fiber. I'm not sure what the end-point will be. I tell people he's going to get fancy new bionic legs." That will be up to Dr. Denis Marcellin-Little and the team at North Carolina State University working on Cassidy’s prosthetics. Marcellin-Little is an expert in custom prosthetics and physical therapy. Like a real-life Dr. House for dogs and cats, Dr. Marcellin-Little gets the most challenging cases, where existing methods cannot provide treatment, so he and an international team of collaborators develop new ones. The process for building a custom implant starts with a CT scan. Then, 3D-printed models of bones may be made. Marcellin-Little has over a decade-long collaboration with Dr. Ola Harrysson of the department of Industrial Systems and Engineering building implants. Marcellin-Little and Harrysson have invented a technique called osseointegration, where a titanium implant gets attached directly to bone via a honeycombed surface the bone grows to fill. The implant itself is made using a type of metal 3D printing called electron beam melting (EBM) where titanium powder is melted in successive layers to make the object. Several news articles have mentioned the cost of Cassidy’s care. $10,000 has been spent on Cassidy already. The implant procedures can cost up to $20,000 per leg. The procedure does not only benefit a single animal. Marcellin-Little talks of translating the technique to human patients “All the progress we make in free-form fabrication very quickly gets translated to human prosthetic research. Free-form transdermal osseointegration will cross over at some point to human patients.”
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. 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. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org