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UTA FabLab gives new option to children in need of prosthetic hands

Friday, September 11, 2015

Media Contact: Bridget Lewis

News Topics: faculty, health and fitness, innovation, medicine, research, science, staff

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Carrying out the easiest tasks can be a struggle for children with no hands or missing parts of their arms unless they have prosthetic hands. A major obstacle to getting the artificial limbs, however, is often the hefty cost.

Courtesy Stephen Davies/enablingthefuture.org

A child in the U.K. tries out her prosthetic hand made using e-NABLE design.

The devices, run by batteries and electronic motors, can run as high as $10,000.

The UTA FabLab, operated by The University of Texas at Arlington Libraries, offers new hope to families in need of low-cost artificial hands by joining Enabling the Future (e-NABLE), a network of providers offering access to 3-D print technology. The move will allow visitors to customize and fabricate prosthetic hands for children in a matter of hours, and for $50 or less, a fraction of the cost of medical prosthesis. 

“We chose to focus on children with e-NABLE because it’s difficult for them to get properly sized prostheses,” said Fraser Jones, UTA FabLab technician. “The costs of medical prostheses can present a daunting financial challenge to caregivers because as children grow, their prosthesis must grow with them.”

Many families find the investment impractical and do without. The benefit of e-NABLE is that people can produce a low-cost prosthesis. This is particularly important for a child whose family is unable to spend thousands of dollars every six months to a year to accommodate growth.

“Having access to very low cost prosthetic hands like the ones we can generate here at the UTA FabLab is extremely useful,” Jones said.

With prosthesis options named Raptor Reloaded, Cyborg Beast and Odysseus Hand, e-NABLE designs suggest power and mobility, not disability. Makers can customize each hand with multiple color options, including clear, transparent and glow-in-the dark filaments.

Prosthetic recipients work with their occupational therapist and UTA FabLab personnel to customize the design before sending it to a 3-D printer. Once the pieces are printed, a process that takes up to five hours, the parts are sanded and cleaned before being assembled and fitted to the child.

Flexing the wrist, which pulls on cable “tendons,” closes the fingers. Move the wrist again, and the hand opens. The hands are printed in pieces, which are assembled by volunteers, or by parents and children themselves.  If the prosthesis is uncomfortable, a new one can be made at the UTA FabLab. The same costs would apply.

Courtesy enablingthefuture.org

Raptor Hand features 3-D printed snap pins, a modular tensioning system and compatibility with both Velcro and leather palm enclosures.

The 3-D print files for the hand are free and available at the e-NABLE website, www.enablingthefuture.org.

Rebecca Bichel, UT Arlington Libraries dean, called the program a great fit for the University and its focus on health and the human condition through the Strategic Plan 2020 | Bold Solutions: Global Impact.

“The UTA FabLab has an extraordinary opportunity to connect research and knowledge created at the University to impactful and innovative services,” Bichel said. “The ability to create a customized prosthesis and produce it at a low cost can be life changing. We are proud to provide access to this technology and will continue to explore ways we can support and enhance our community.”

Peace Williamson, health sciences librarian and interim co-manager of the UTA FabLab, said the service highlights the strengths of the University and abilities of the students.

“Students are excited to learn new skills associated with 3-D printing technology and its impact on someone’s life,” Williamson said. “They get to be a part of something incredible and, through these processes, learn more about collaboration and teamwork within a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) environment.”

Contact fablab@uta.edu or visit the e-NABLE website at www.enablingthefuture.org for more information about the prosthetics program.

About the UT Arlington Libraries

Supporting The University of Texas at Arlington and the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan region, UT Arlington Libraries create transformational learning experiences by connecting people to first-class resources, empowering knowledge creation, exploring ideas and pursuing innovations in learning. The UTA FabLab offers all students access to cutting-edge technology for research in digital fabrication and data visualization. UTA Libraries Special Collections focuses on the history of Texas, Mexico and the Southwest, and includes one of the finest cartography collections on Texas and the Gulf of Mexico in the world. The Libraries recently completed an $800,000 cold storage preservation vault for its collection of approximately 5 million photographic negatives. To learn more about UTA Libraries, please visit http://library.uta.edu.

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 51,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UT Arlington as one of the 20 fastest-growing public research universities in the nation in 2014. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as a “Best for Vets” college by Military Times magazine. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UT Arlington rankings and recognition at http://www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.