3D printing technology has been used to make an affordable, functioning prosthetic hand for a 4-year-old girl suffering from Poland syndrome.
Hailey Dawson was born with the birth defect, which causes incomplete development of hand and chest muscles.
Her mother, Yong Dawson, was initially told by healthcare professionals that a prosthetic device would cost tens of thousands of dollars – just for the first prosthesis. As Hailey grew, Dawson would have to incur that expense repeatedly as Hailey needed to be refitted with larger hands.
So the family sought the expertise of their local university to see if they could provide an alternative.
Brendan O’Toole, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Katherine Lau, a Rutgers biomedical engineering student, took up the challenge and spent the summer working on designs appropriate for the 4-year-old girl.
Lau explains that the project was more than just a summer research project. She describes it as a life changing experience that confirmed her choice of career. “I want to be a biomedical engineer to improve the lives of others,” said Lau. “That summer, I got to see firsthand what my work can do.”
Lau’s engineering team knew of public domain designs for 3D-printed hands, such as Robohand and Enable, but their challenge was to adapt these designs to fit the young girl’s size and accommodate the specific nature of her deformity.
Working with Hailey throughout the summer, they fashioned a hand with fingers that grasped objects when Hailey bent her wrist forward.
“Hailey was so confident,” Lau said. “Even though she has these deformities, she didn’t think twice about it. She just said, ‘this is my special hand,’ and she showed it off to everyone.”
Lau and O’Toole were able to make the necessary adjustments to make a suitable prosthetic hand for Hailey, and this past summer she was invited to throw out the first pitch at a Baltimore Orioles game using her 3D-printed hand.
Hailey’s story is another example of the life-changing development in prosthetic technology.
The news follows last week’s announcement by DARPA that it has created a prosthetic hand that’s allowed a 28-year-old to ‘feel’ the object they were touching. The hand, which is directly connected to his brain, also allowed him to identify which finger was being touched.