Researchers at the Nemours / Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children have created something heartwarming; a 3D printed exoskeleton that allows a two year old girl named Emma to move her arms for the first time.
When Emma was born she was diagnosed with Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita (AMC). Children with AMC are frequently unable to move their arms on their own and the condition does not get better over time. Emma could not raise her arms to hug her parents, hold a crayon or play with a toy.
Emma's parents were researching treatment options for her when they found out about something called the Wilmington Robotic EXoskeleton (WREX). The WREX is an arm exoskeleton that uses elastic bands for resistance. The device allows children like Emma to be able to lift and move their arms, usually for the first time. Emma was able to successfully try out a WREX unit at the hospital. Unfortunately it wasn't a practical solution because it was too heavy for her to use long term. That's when the researchers at Nemours got creative.
They used an in-house Stratasys Dimension 3D printer to create Emma her own lightweight WREX unit. It was built from ABS plastic (the same plastic used in LEGOs) and the researchers made a personalized plastic harness so that Emma could wear the unit comfortably.
With her WREX in place Emma was able to play and express herself like other children. To her parent's delight, she was even able to raise her arms up to hug them. Emma calls her WREX unit her "magic arms" and doesn't like to take it off.
The Stratasys 3D printer that allowed for the creation of Emma's WREX has also allowed Emma's doctors to upgrade the design as she grew and make fast repairs when needed. Emma's mother noted that anytime a part breaks all she has to do is take a picture of it and email it to the hospital. Emma's doctors simply print out a new piece and her mom picks it up in the morning.
You can take a look at a video describing Emma's journey below, but you may want to have a box of tissues handy.
Did you know that 3D printing is also being used to create robotic hands and arms for children with other types of birth defects? A company called Robohand is pioneering the technology.