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3-D Printing Technologies Help Advance Prosthetics for Children

Children around the world may stand to benefit from 3-D printed prosthetics, a major leap forward for growing patients.

Children around the world may stand to benefit from 3-D printed prosthetics, a major leap forward for growing patients whose smaller body parts require frequent changes. One of those children is Hayley Fraser, a Scotland native who received a 3-D printed hand.

Fraser is now able to ride her scooter comfortably thanks to a little pink prosthetic, despite being born with a congenital hand disorder that left her with abnormally short fingers on her left hand.

“I maybe thought the worst for her life, but this sort of changed everything and gave a little hope for her,” Hayley’s mother Zania said.

Fraser received her 3-D printed prosthetic from e-NABLE, U.S-based company, and it has already made a huge difference in her confidence.

“Before she was hiding her hand behind her back so no one would see,” her mom said.

Making a 3-D printed prosthetic is similar to making any other 3-D printed object. The area where the prosthetic will be worn is scanned and the measurements are saved in a computer. Solid plastic is fed in from a reel, then melted and squirted out according to the computer’s commands. The printer then prints one layer at a time, slowly building up a solid object.

Fraser is one of the first children in the United Kingdom to receive a 3-D printed prosthetic. Her parents said that it was difficult finding a local company that could make a hand that Hayley could use.

Open Bionics, located in Britain, has been working on printing 3-D prosthetics. Joel Gibbard, the founder of the company, said it has focused on making lo- cost robotic prosthetics for the last two years. He explained that while the technology for 3-D printing has been in existence for years, it wasn’t until relatively recently that the application has been used for prosthetics.

“People have started trying to apply it to prosthetics, and that's ranged just from aesthetic covers for leg prosthetics to fully functioning prosthetics like the ones we're trying to develop,” Gibbard said.

Open Bionics is not the only company that is making 3-D printed prosthetics: e-NABLE and Robohand are two American companies that are seeking to help amputees as well.

Gibbard said that 3-D printed prosthetics are a good option for young children because of the low cost and because children can be refitted as they grow.

For Hayley, a robotic prosthetic wasn’t the best option because of her young age, but Gibbard says that he and his team are keeping children in mind in their design process.

“What we want to do at Open Bionics is empower kids to embrace their limb difference by letting them help design the prosthetics that they receive,” he said. “It’s still in the early stages. Hopefully the next ones we make will be much lighter and a lot more sleek.”

Right now Hayley has a more basic prosthetic, which is easier for the 5-year-old to operate, but a 3-D robotic prosthetic could be a possibility as she grows older.

Her parents said that they are taking the process one step at a time, but ultimately the decision to continue to use a prosthetic will be up to Hayley.

“We don't force it upon her, so it’s her choosing when and if she wants to wear it," Zania Fraser said.