Creighton Professor 3D Prints Hand

3d printed hand.imageWe’ve talked a bit about 3D printing (and even 4D!) here on the NeMAC blog before, most recently when Stratasys launched the very first full color 3D printer a few weeks ago. This week, 3D printing made the news once again when a Creighton professor revolutionized the future of prosthetic limbs with his printed hands.

Jorge Zuniga’s research was inspired by the need for children’s mechanical hands not only in Nebraska, but throughout the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that every year, 1,500 infants are born without fully formed arms. This means that either missing wrists, palms, or fingers obstruct the use of their hands for gripping or grabbing. Even for children, the prosthetic limbs needed for basic movement are incredibly expensive, and a less pricey alternative can make a huge difference for those in need.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, Zuniga’s prosthetics cost about the same as a pair of shoes, and although they don’t have the realistic touches of skin and fingernails, they perform the same functions as any other prosthetic hand on the market. The professor uses a 3D printer on campus to heat the material and mold into the shape of fingers.

This isn’t the first time a printer has been used to make a medical device. Across the country, hearing aids, skin grafts, and even heart valves are being printed and used. As close as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, faculty are using printed bones to test new surgical tools.

Earlier this month, nine-year old Shea Stollenwerk from Wisconsin received a hand from a professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison using Zuniga’s design. Stollenwerk was born with no fingers and a partial thumb, meaning that until she received the new prosthetic, had never been able to pick anything up with her right hand. It’s stories like these that fuel Zuniga’s desire to create, and the limitations that science is overcoming are due in part to the possibilities of manufacturing.

Consumers can’t buy these hands on Amazon just yet, however. Zuniga is currently waiting for approval from a Creighton University research board to send the hands to children who need them. Each hand takes about four hours to print and longer to design, and costs between $50-100.

It’s always exciting when manufacturing developments can so extensively benefit the world, especially children in need like Stellenwerk. There’s potential to make a difference with every invention and every hour spent designing–it’s just up to us what to create.

Thoughts on how inexpensive prosthetics could change the manufacturing or health care industries? Be sure to share with us on Twitter or Facebook!

Photo credit: Rebecca S. Gratz/Omaha World-Herald via Kearney Hub