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While makers, hackers, and hobbyists from nearly every country enjoy the benefits of 3D printing, the technology has lent itself to a wide variety of important endeavors. We have followed as NASA has created a new way to make rocket engine nozzles, the Army uses 3D printing in experimental exercises, and surgeons in Wales just gave one of their patients the first 3D printed chest implant. And although the medical field has seen enormous impacts and strides in patient-specific care, the area of medical devices, and especially prosthetics, has been transformed around the world for those in need—especially children.

Eight-year-old Toby Carrizales is the latest to benefit from a 3D printed prosthetic, thanks to the resourcefulness of SivaTeja Pati, a biology major at Texas Tech University who has made excellent use of the Makerspace in the University Library. Pati is a member of the American Medical Student Association and he is hoping to attend medical school after graduating from Texas Tech. He became interested in how 3D printing is affecting the medical field after researching the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 3D Print Exchange database and fabricating some models of the brain:

“I wanted to see what was being done with 3D printing in medicine, because something like this would be great to have in biology classes or medical school,” Pati said. “In the program, you can actually slice the brain in half and print off two halves and show your students the structures inside. As opposed to a picture, you can say, ‘Here, touch it.'”

At the NIH site, Pati also found some designs from the organization famed for their work in creating 3D printed prosthetic hands and arms: e-NABLE.

“If you were to look at a map of the state of the closest e-NABLE communities, you have one in Austin, San Antonio, somewhere near Dallas and one in New Mexico. In the middle is Lubbock, about 300 miles away from each other place,” Pati said. “That’s a big circle with no one to actually do anything. It’s the same thing with University Medical Center – they’re the only Level 1 trauma center from here to those major cities. If someone happened to get in a life-threatening incident, they’d need to come here. If someone needed a 3D prosthetic hand, they’d have to go 300 miles the other way.”

Pati began working with Makerspace specialist Sean Scully, and they 3D printed a hand for a class presentation centered around the need for an e-NABLE group nearby. Soon after, Toby Carrizales’ grandmother, Anna Carrizales, heard about their work and contacted Scully to see if they could make a 3D printed prosthetic hand for her grandson. Scully thought they might be able to do something through the Makerspace for her grandson—and for free—and directed her to Pati.

The first iteration 3D printed by Pati.

The idea blossomed into a research project, meaning Pati and those involved at the Makerspace were able to make the 3D printed hand at no cost to the Carrizales family. And as a student at the Honors College, Pati benefited greatly from working with a new adviser, John Carrell, Assistant Professor of Engineering.

“We used our 3D-scanning capabilities here in the Makerspace to scan Toby’s arm, then we were able to 3D print it so he wouldn’t have to come in constantly,” Scully said. “Some of the parts need to be form-fitted, so we have to heat them up and mold them. Because we were able to establish it as free, printing a large arm didn’t seem to be too expensive.

“We have a structure scanner that attaches to the iPad. It’s hard to get an 8-year-old to sit still long enough, but we got a really good scan. Then, we were able to print that out so Teja could go and form the pieces around that.”

The research project was lengthier than first expected; getting to the final 3D print took several months. They were also able to produce a superhero-themed prosthetic à la Spiderman—Toby’s favorite.

“He’s had to print his first large hand and see how the mechanisms work and how to put it together, and there’s all sorts of troubleshooting that go into optimizing the 3D print process,” Carrell explained. “He’s done a lot of the initial work, and then the actual work as far as getting Toby’s hand put together and the Spider-Man accents.”

Pati’s research will continue as the eight-year-old learns to use the new hand, relying on a grasp-type motion. Pati is currently also working on research and design for 3D printed prosthetics centered around the pinch grip, which uses the index and middle fingers and the thumb. The research group is also considering a combination grasp and pinch method:

“There are all sorts of things you could put on it, gyroscopes or little Arduino boards that could give more functionality or feedback, but it becomes more cost prohibitive, especially for Toby, who’s going to be growing up and will need hands to grow with him,” Carrell said. “Keeping it on the mechanical side, we can print a hand for about $20. For all the electronics, it would be much more expensive.”

Toby hopes to play football, continue further in his piano lessons, and much more, explains his mother, Desiree Lopez.

“When I saw him pick up a ball on Friday, that’s something that’s so simple, but he’s never been able to do that,” she said. “Seeing that made me really emotional because I never thought I’d see him do that. I can’t imagine how he must feel.”

Being able to dress up as Spiderman and have the addition of a Spiderman prosthetic has not only been exciting and fun for Toby but has acted as a boon to his confidence also.

“There’s the stigma that’s attached to having a disability and feeling that you’re less,” Scully said. “Dressed up as Spider-Man with a Spider-Man hand really flips that on its head. He goes from someone who has to deal with this thing to someone who can show off. That’s a very different dynamic in terms of how you approach learning and your outside community and everything.”

With this project, Scully sees the Makerspace living up to his vision.

“This is one of the things I wanted to do with this Makerspace: affordable prosthetics for kids, interacting with the community and advancing the technology on a local level. I think that’s what makerspaces are all about. And fostering people who are excited about it and giving them the resources to follow through. I think that’s how most big innovations happen.”

He also had the reward of watching Pati become inspired to follow through with an incredible project, helping a young boy and allowing him to have better quality of life with the new prosthetic.

“It’s probably a more rewarding type of research experience for Teja,” Carrell said. “A lot of times you get to do the research and you may understand the implications of it, but you don’t get to see it applied. He gets to see it applied.”

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.

[Source / Images: Texas Tech Today]

 

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