There are so many exciting developments with the surge of interest in and accessibility to 3-D printers. They are not just inspiring children and adults to become engineers and manufacturers, but also have many useful applications in the field of medicine. 3-D printers have allowed people who need prosthetic hands an affordable option. Robohand USA is a company with a mission to create safe and low cost upper limb prosthetics. These prosthetics can easily be customized and repaired. This is a definite advantage to more expensive and sophisticated prosthetics. Anastasia Rivas
is a 5th grader who is benefiting from the work done by Robohand. She was born with amniotic band syndrome which led the congenital deformity of an under-developed hand. As a growing girl, Anastasia would outgrow other more costly prosthetics (upwards of $60,000) quickly, and up until this point cost prevented her from having one. With Robohand, Ty Esham, a hand therapist, helped create most of the components for Anastasia's new hand on a Makerbot Replicator 2 3-D printer for a finished product that was $2,000, only a fraction of the cost of other prosthetics.
Sydney Kendall is a teenager who lost her right arm below the elbow in an accident when she was 6. She benefits from a prosthetic arm built by engineering students at Washington University in St. Louis and Shriners Hospital. Her device only cost $200 and she got to watch it being built!
Prosthetics are not the only area where 3-D printing can make a big difference in medicine. Doctors are developing methods to harvest cells from patient's bodies to then use to "print" the scaffold for new organs. With the ability to customize organs for transplant they will potentially avoid issues such as a patient's body rejecting foreign tissue, and the ability to build child-sized organs rather than having to use adult organs in children, and much, much more. This technology truly could revolutionize medicine.
Clearly there are many practical uses for 3-D printing, and with printers available more widely it makes sense to incorporate them into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programming in our schools. In the past year there have been many opportunities for schools and teachers to apply for funding or find a deal on a 3-D printer. Makerbot Academy has teamed up with Donorschoose.org to try to get a 3-D printer into every public school. Grant-writing support for 3-D printer funding is available from Stratasys. Universities like Carnegie Melon and LeHigh have benefited from a $3 million grant from 3-D Systems, "America Makes" and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Early in 2014 an incredible program was launched by Autodesk with the help of Makerbot and Donorschoose.org to offer teachers Makerbot printers for $98! The funding it certainly out there for opportunities to set up maker's spaces in schools. This is an inspiring and exciting time for getting kids involved in engineering!
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