ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It is not a new technology, but the University of New Mexico is using 3D printing for something groundbreaking. The school is using the technology to make prosthetic hands for children.
The hands and fingers that were created by the 3D printer are for children who were born with birth defects or have had amputations.
“If the child is born missing their left hand then we can create a 3D image of the right hand. That image can then be utilized to create a mirror image and then we a build a hand that looks just like that for the other side,” said Dr. Mercer, an orthopedic hand surgeon.
Each part is made out of a polymer plastic, a material that is affordable and will cost patients less than $100. Doctors assure the low cost does not compromise quality.
“As long as they have their wrist available to them, basically what they do is they can flex their wrist and when they flex their wrist it closes the fingers of the hand,” said Dr. Salas, the assistant professor of orthopedics.
There are currently 10 to 12 children involved in the research. Doctors said once they get over the initial shock of it looking like a robot hand, they realize how useful it can be.
“Once they play with it a little bit more they actually see that it actually allows them a little bit more functionality with their hand than they do with their residual limb,” said Dr. Salas.
These prosthetic hands are currently only available for children two years old and up, but the possibility of having it available for adults isn’t too far off.
“If we can see that it sustains some of the forces that adults might generally need to apply, then absolutely we can upgrade it to that point,” said Dr. Salas.
The current process can print an entire hand in less than 24 hours.
The program is still in a testing phase to make sure there are no allergic reactions to the polymer plastic. Doctors expect the first prosthetic to be available within the next year.
Researchers are currently testing the prosthetic hands in the most basic form and said the plan is to upgrade to a more sophisticated prosthetic.