Eight-Year-Old Michigan Boy with Moebius Syndrome Receives 3D Printed Hand from CMU’s MakerBot Innovation Center


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Austin Brittain 1

Central Michigan University sophomore Austin Brittain engineered a Captain America-themed prosthetic hand for a Muskegon Heights boy with the help of CMU’s MakerBot Innovation Center.

Austin Brittain is a sophomore at Central Michigan University. And it goes to show that you never know what’s going to happen when you walk into class on any given day, as recently Brittain’s entrance was marked by his professor asking if he might like to work with one of the other departments to create a 3D printed prosthetic for a boy born without a hand. Not missing a beat, Brittain was up to the challenge, and ready to put their on-site 3D printing technology to the test.

Michael Bell is eight years old. He lives in Muskegon Heights and was born without his left hand, due to a condition referred to as Moebius Syndrome. A nonprogressive craniofacial/neurological disorder, numerous issues can accompany this syndrome, from facial paralysis to respiratory and speech problems, as well as nerve problems. Limb abnormalities often arise as well, as in Michael’s case.

Although Michael attends school, his resource room teacher was beginning to notice that he was struggling in class and she thought he could use some additional help with a prosthetic. A CMU alumna herself, Sarah Volker’s husband works at the university—and as she began examining the possibilities of 3D printed prosthetics, she discussed the potential with her husband Michael Volker and Greg Stahly—both CMU art and design faculty members.

Larry Burditt, Chair of the department of Art and Design, in the new Makerbot lab in Wightman Hall. Photo by Steve Jessmore/Central Michigan University

Central Michigan University is the first public university in the Midwest with a MakerBot Innovation Center, a large-scale 3D printing installation, and one of few in the United States to house an Innovation Center that focuses on arts and human services. [Photo by Steve Jessmore/Central Michigan University]

As the project became a go, Michael Volker enjoyed being part of a completely new experience.

“It was eye-opening for me because I’m a 2D person, and it was fun to learn the process and watch the whole thing develop,” said Volker.

“It gave us an opportunity to show what the 3D printers can do for real people, not just to study. I think it would also be good for people who are interested in studying here, at CMU and in the art department, to see the kind of world that the 3D printer can open up.”

Brittain has been a fan of 3D printing since learning of the technology and consequently signing up for a 3D creation course at Central Michigan University, where they are lucky to have a MakerBot Innovation Center—one that we reported on last year as it was set up in Wightman Hall, offering one of the only lab setups of its kind in the Midwest, as far as public learning institutions go.

“Ever since hearing that you could 3D print prosthetic hands, I was blown away by that application,” said Brittain, a mechanical engineering and technology student. “To be able to actually do that was really an amazing moment for me.”

CMU engineering student Austin Brittain holds a prototype of a 3D printed hand he made. Central Michigan University photos by Steve Jessmore

“This was a sort of test hand,” said Austin Brittain, a Central Michigan University student from Breckenridge, Michigan. “It is the Raptor Reloaded design from Enabling the Future. Assembling it gave me an understanding of how these devices work, which came in handy when I was putting Michael’s hand together. Michael’s device is the Phoenix hand, which is a newer design.” [Central Michigan University photo by Steve Jessmore]

Working in the lab and using an e-NABLE template, Brittain has now joined the many thousands of others around the world who have used one of these designs to help a child who could really benefit from a 3D printed prosthetic. We routinely report on projects through e-NABLE, most recently regarding a new parametic prosthetic that is scalable to adapt with children’s growth.

one photoIn Michael’s case, Brittain chose to 3D print a red, white, and blue prosthetic upon discovering that the little boy is a big fan of Captain America. The hand itself used less than $10 in plastic, and the project overall ending up costing less than $100. Considering that traditional prosthetics cost into the thousands, require many inconvenient fittings, and are not nearly as customized, this new trend in 3D printing medical devices is certain allowing for much more accessibility.

Consisting of the wrist gauntlet, palm piece, and fingers, the design is held together with hinges and strings that are responsible for flexibility and movement, allowing the fingers to close when the wrist flexes, and for the fingers to open when pressure is released. Brittain was able to take the hand to Michael on his last day of the school year, with quite a crowd there to celebrate including Michael’s mom, all of his classmates, the school superintendent, and the special education director.

two photo“He felt like a superhero, and that’s really cool for him because he wasn’t exactly in a position to feel like that every day,” Brittain said.

“Fully assembled, ready to go, and Michael’s family didn’t have to pay for any of that,” Brittain said. “That was really powerful for them and shows what the university is capable of doing with their resources, as far as helping people out.”

The outcome has been extremely positive as most importantly, Michael’s new arm is functioning very well upon later reports, but also in that this project shows the true potential for the CMU 3D printing lab.

Everyone plans to stay in touch, and Brittain has already been thinking ahead to when Michael will outgrow this prosthetic, giving the child’s mother resources for easy replacement parts. Discuss this inspiring story further in the 3D Printed Prosthetic Hand forum over at 3DPB.com.

[Source / Images: Supplied Directly from Central Michigan University]

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