World’s First Clinical Trial of 3D Printed Bionic Hands for Children Begins in UK

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Tilly Lockey [Image: Open Bionics]

When Tilly Lockey was 17 months old, she developed meningitis. She recovered, but she lost both of her hands – but the UK girl, now 11, refuses to see that as a tragedy. Rather, she sees herself as a superhero, and that attitude is helped by her 3D printed, superhero-themed prosthetic hand, which she received from Bristol-based startup Open Bionics. Rather than feeling sorry for her, Lockey says, people are awed by her 3D printed bionic hand, which is based on the video game Deus Ex. She’s become somewhat of a poster child for 3D printed prosthetics, as she agreed to help Open Bionics test out different devices.

Soon, many more UK children may be proudly bearing their own superhero hands, as this week begins the first-ever clinical trial for 3D printed bionic hands for children. Open Bionics signed a partnership with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) in December for the trial, which will last for six months and provide 10 children with the prosthetic devices.

At this point, there are only two types of prosthetic devices that the NHS can provide, and they’re very basic: one is a hook, and the other is a gripper that simply opens and closes. Meanwhile, private manufacturers can charge as much as £60,000 for the type of bionic device that Lockey has. Open Bionics can produce the devices for under £5,000, and the clinical trial, funded by £100,000 from the Small Business Research Initiative, will demonstrate the effectiveness and feasibility of the technology.

“It was probably our biggest milestone in terms of getting this bionic hand to amputees,” said Samantha Payne, co-founder of Open Bionics. “If that goes well and does everything we think it will, we’ll be offered the chance to apply for £1m grant money to roll the product out across all NHS clinics. That’s what we’re hoping to achieve this year. This will be miles ahead for the NHS.”

Open Bionics 3D prints its prosthetic hands in four parts, and adds sensors which attach to the wearer’s skin to detect muscle movements, allowing the wearer to open and close and otherwise control the hand.

“Prosthetics have to custom fit every individual user and the software also has to work with them,” Payne explained. “The big innovation, and how we’re saving money, is by changing the materials that prosthetics are made of [and] by using 3D scanning to take the initial fitting. It takes about two minutes, and we can then build the socket in 24 hours.”

Open Bionics has also signed a royalty-free agreement with Disney allowing it to use Disney-themed designs for its prosthetics. Frozen fans can choose a blue, sparkling, snowflake-adorned hand, while Iron Man enthusiasts can walk around looking like Tony Stark in red and gold. There’s even a luminous Star Wars lightsaber hand, and Open Bionics promises that new designs will be coming soon, too.

If the clinical trial succeeds, it will not only be a victory for Open Bionics, it will demonstrate the value of 3D printed prosthetic and bionic devices to the whole world. 3D printed prosthetics are still largely provided by nonprofits, and having them covered by a major public health agency would be a huge step forward towards integrating them into mainstream healthcare. We may see a day – sooner rather than later – when all children who have lost limbs are able to feel like superheroes or royalty. Discuss in the Open Bionics forum at 3DPB.com.

[Sources: IndependentMirror]

 

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