Jan 19, 2017 | By Julia

e-NABLE has done it again, this time at the University of Cincinnati (UC). The global network of volunteers, which is best known for connecting makers and the disability community through the free sharing of 3D printed prosthetics, has now inspired a new student group to extend its mission.

Meet EnableUC, the new student organization at UC that pairs engineering students up with people looking for a helping hand. The inspirational group has already outfitted an impressive amount of patients around the state with affordable 3D printed prosthetics, and continually works on new ways to apply 3D printing to a range of medical issues.

EnableUC president Jacob Knorr and co-vice president Nick Bailey

EnableUC was founded by Jacob Knorr, a 22-year-old biomedical engineering student at the UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. Before serving as the group’s president, Knorr worked at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre in the Division of Plastic Surgery. It was at the Hospital that Knorr learned how to use additive manufacturing in a medical context, by 3D printing tissue-engineered scaffolds used for promoting bone regrowth. His research focuses on craniofacial abnormalities such as cleft lip and palate bone defects.

Over time, Knorr recognized the opportunity to bring his work and school interests together. Thanks to the help of the biomedical engineering faculty and students, as well as some grant funding, Enable UC got its hands on a 3D printer and set to work. Currently about 30 members make up the group.

According to Knorr, 3D printing unlocks a world of potential for students. “You don’t need to be any kind of expert to make something with complex architecture, whereas you would [otherwise] need a machinist, very expensive tools and other materials,” he said.

The process is both affordable and patient-specific. When paired with a patient who has either a palm without functioning fingers or a partial palm, EnableUC turns to e-NABLE’s extensive database of design files for mechanical hand devices. The design file is then scaled to the size of the patient’s hand, followed by converting the file for use by the 3D printer. The resulting prosthetics are almost entirely 3D printed, right down to the pins. Within a few hours, the device can be completed for only $20 – a vast reduction from traditional prosthetics that can cost thousands.

Knorr with EnableUC's 3D printer

“The idea is not to make something that’s state of the art,” Knorr says, “it’s to make something accessible that can help people. The reality is many people are not going to be able to afford that or they’re not in the position to use those.”

Beyond building and outfitting mechanical prosthetic hands, EnableUC has its eye on innovating new devices as well. “It’s really great to take open-source designs from online and print them out and then give them to patients, but also we’re a university,” says Knorr. “We have a lot of engineers, people that like designing and building things. So we want to develop some of our own solutions.”

Ideas currently on the drawing board include a robotic arm, or as Knorr thinks of it, a “Luke Skywalker hand.” Unlike the 3D printed prosthetic hands, this new device would be battery powered and able to sense muscle contractions. EnableUC is currently raising funds online for the project, with hopes to get it off the ground as soon as possible.

Ultimately, Knorr would like EnableUC to keep expanding. “We really want to expand to that next level to not only have an impact in the Cincinnati area, but an impact on a global scale.”

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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