Jun 13, 2017 | By Benedict

The British National Health Service (NHS) may soon provide 3D printed prostheses to children—for free. The 3D printed devices, which are made by prosthetics company Open Bionics, will be the subject of a six-month clinical trial beginning this week.

11-year-old Tilly Lockey, pictured with her Open Bionics 3D printed hand, is one of the trial's participants

It’s no secret that 3D printing has helped to reduce the cost of customized prosthetic devices for limb-different people. Prostheses that once cost upward of $65,000 can now be obtained for a fraction of that figure, giving a large number of people the opportunity to acquire new limbs where previously there was none.

But unless you’re going for an ultra-budget option like the e-NABLE prosthetic hand, quality 3D printed prosthetic devices—though cheaper than traditional models—can still be costly. Take Open Bionics, for example, a British prosthetics specialist based in Bristol that has garnered a reputation for being one of the most exciting companies in its field. Though more affordable than existing options, its child-friendly devices can still cost upward of $6,000.

While the cost of expensive technology isn’t going to magically diminish, a new clinical trial in the UK offers hope that customized 3D printed prostheses could soon be available to children—at no cost at all.

Open Bionics is working with 10 children at a Bristol-based hospital for a six-month trial of its specialist prosthetic devices, which usually cost around $6,000. If the children acclimatize to their new 3D printed arms, which have controllable fingers thanks to clever muscle sensors, the British NHS could eventually offer such devices as part of its universally free healthcare service.

The 3D printed Open Bionics prosthetic arms consist of four separate printed parts which are assembled after printing. A two-minute 3D scanning session is required on each trial participant to ensure that their 3D printed prosthesis is a perfect fit, while assembly of the socket takes around 24 hours.

Open Bionics has a royalty-free licensing deal with Disney

Excitingly for the kids involved, Open Bionics has a royalty-free agreement with Disney that allows it to create special 3D printed prostheses inspired by kid-friendly movies like Iron Man, Frozen, and Star Wars. (Disney isn’t so happy about unauthorized 3D printed copies of its characters.) This partnership is likely the result of Open Bionics once being part of a Disney startup accelerator program.

One of the 10 children taking part in the trial is 11-year-old Durham resident Tilly Lockey, who lost her hands after getting meningitis as a baby. Tilly told the BBC that her Open Bionics hand “looks awesome and…makes you feel confident.” She added: “Instead of people thinking they feel sorry for you because you don’t have a hand, they’re like: ‘Oh my gosh, that’s a cool hand!’”

Open Bionics won a £100,000 ($127,000) award from the Small Business Research Initiatives scheme to fund the trial, which it is carrying out with the North Bristol NHS hospital trust. It the trial is successful, the prosthetics company hopes it will be offered the chance to apply for a £1 million  ($1.27m) grant to roll the product out across all NHS clinics.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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