When Sol Ryan was born, there were some complications. He would be okay, but doctors ended up having to amputate his lower left arm, leaving him with about an inch of his lower arm remaining. His parents were told that he would have to wait a year before he could be fitted with a nonfunctional, cosmetic-only prosthetic, and three years before the National Health Service could provide a functional myoelectric prosthetic.
Sol’s father, Ben Ryan, a psychology teacher, decided that such a long wait was unacceptable, especially as he could see that Sol was losing responsiveness in his left arm – he simply stopped moving it. Ryan began doing his own research into infant prosthetics, and discovered that higher rejection rates occur in children who are fitted for artificial limbs after the age of two. and that earlier fittings resulted in better acceptance and continued use of prosthetics on a lifelong basis. Learning these facts made Ryan even more determined to see his son fitted with a prosthetic as soon as possible, so he designed one himself.
Ryan isn’t the first parent to take matters into his own hands regarding the health of his child. We’ve seen multiple cases of children with missing limbs or other disabilities who find little relief or even worsened discomfort from their prosthetics or assistive devices, or who are unable to obtain prosthetics due to expense or, in the case of Sol, bureaucracy. Those children have been lucky enough to have parents skilled in 3D printing or willing to teach themselves about the technology so that they can create devices for their children themselves.
Without 3D printing, these determined parents would likely have been unable to create such devices, at least not as effectively. Ryan first created a foam arm for Sol so that he could begin adjusting to a prosthetic, and then began working on a much more complex and functional device. Below, you can see five-week-old Sol with his foam prosthetic, able to reach his toys for the first time:
Meanwhile, Ryan created a design in Autodesk Fusion 360 and began printing prototypes of a hydraulic prosthetic arm on a Stratasys Connex 3D printer. He printed flexible actuators and a power-splitting unit called a double acting helical bellow, or DAHB, which allows the wearer to open and close his or her thumb either manually or with assistive power provided by compressed air or a hydraulic pump and reservoir. The mechanism was actually inspired by spiders, which use fluid pressure to move their legs.
After taking a plaster cast of Sol’s arm, Ryan was able to produce a prosthetic for his son in five days; in contrast, the National Health Service takes about 11 weeks to do the same. With the digital copy of the design on file, Ryan can easily print new devices as Sol grows. Not only is the prosthetic more lightweight than typical myoelectric devices, it can be operated without electronics or batteries, has no small parts and is optimized for infants.
With the success of Sol’s prosthetic, Ryan decided to reach out to other babies with missing limbs by founding Ambionics, a company that designs and 3D prints hydraulic prosthetics for infants.
“The success of my patented DAHB mechanism draws on the advanced capabilities of the Stratasys Connex Printer – the ability to combine rigid and soft materials in a single print was vital to the success of the design,” said Ryan. “We were fortunate enough to have access to this technology, which enabled us to 3D print a prototype arm so quickly and cost-effectively. In founding Ambionics, it’s now my goal to ensure that other limb deficient children like my son are not faced with the current constraints and delays of traditional prosthetic manufacture.”
“This is a very innovative and ambitious project and it’s been inspiring to work with Ben on it,” said Paul Sohi, a product design expert at Autodesk, who is working with Ryan on the further development of the prosthetic. “It is amazing that despite Ben having no real background in product design, he’s effectively taught himself enough to create something that will not only help his own son Sol, but in Ambionics, potentially others facing the same challenges too.”
According to Ryan, he wants to be able to offer his technology to health care providers around the world, but he needs funding to complete research, development, and patenting, as well as further prototyping and CE certification/FDA approval. He has launched an Indiegogo campaign with the goal of raising £150,000 within the next month.
“This case is indicative of 3D printing’s ability to improve lives by overcoming the traditional barriers of low-volume manufacturing,” said Scott Rader, General Manager, Healthcare Solutions, Stratasys. “We continue to support and enable innovators like Ben to bring customization to mainstream prosthetics manufacture.”
The Indiegogo campaign just launched today and has already raised more than £1,700. Learn more below about Sol’s story and how you can help his father get his business off the ground. You can also visit the Ambionics Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter or YouTube. Discuss in the Ambionics forum at 3DPB.com.[All images courtesy of Ben Ryan via Indiegogo]