3D Hand
Chloe Van Meter-Ellis models a 3-D-printed hand prosthesis created in UNM Orthopaedics Biomechanics & Biomaterials Laboratory. 

A study on the use of 3-D printers to create prosthetic hands and fingers for pediatric patients could lead to affordable, upper-extremity prosthetics for New Mexico children with congenital defects and amputations.

Carrie Tingley Hospital Foundation is funding the one-year study through UNM’s Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation’s research division. “We’ll examine various design options and materials and then mechanically test them to determine best designs for use with pediatric patients,” says Christina Salas, PhD, assistant professor and director of UNM Orthopaedics Biomechanics & Biomaterials Laboratory.

Noting that 3-D-printed devices show promise as low-cost pediatric prosthetics, Salas points out that no mechanical test data currently exists to support that possibility. “Our goal is to optimize existing prosthetic designs for strength and durability and to develop new designs that enable better gripping for both partial finger and partial hand prosthetic devices,” she adds.

Since children with prosthetic needs during their growth years typically require new devices every six to 12 months that can cost nearly $700 apiece, the prospect of 3-D printing each device for under $75 is appealing to pediatric orthopedic surgeons like Selina Silva, MD. “This would be extremely beneficial in New Mexico, where nearly 22 percent of our population lives below the poverty level,” says Silva, who serves as interim medical director of Albuquerque’s Carrie Tingley Hospital .

Currently, Carrie Tingley Hospital serves more than 300 pediatric patients needing an upper extremity prosthesis due to a congenital defect or amputation. “Making prosthetics more affordable for our pediatric patients would not only improve their daily quality of life but help ease the financial burden on their families who can frequently find their health insurance coverage, if they even have it, is limited when it comes to new hardware,” Silva says.

Testing of the 3-D printing technology for building pediatric prosthetics is set to begin this summer in UNM's Orthopaedics Biomechanics & Biomaterials Laboratory under the guidance of Salas, with Silva serving as lead clinical faculty advisor on the study along with Deana Mercer, MD, a pediatric hand surgeon at Carrie Tingley Hospital. “We are excited about the opportunity to pursue this groundbreaking study to improve upper extremity function in children thanks to our generous grant from the Carrie Tingley Hospital Foundation,” says Mercer. “Their dedication to New Mexico children is exemplified by this study.”