ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - A Florida boy born without most of his right arm took home a new forearm and functioning hand on Friday made by a team of scientists using a 3-D printer - a method they hope will transform the way prosthetics are made, particularly for children.
The prosthetic made for 6-year-old Alex Pring is among at least 50 created in the past year by a diffuse band of international contributors who collaborate online and print them out on 3-D printers, said Jon Schull, a Rochester Institute of Technology scientist who launched the online group last July.
Pring's prosthetic, which cost about $350 in materials, is notable as the group's first for a child without a wrist or elbow to operate it, Schull said.
“I’m going to open things, climb trees and do all that other stuff that everybody does,” said Pring, a resident of Groveland, outside of Orlando, who was able to give his mother his first two-armed hug.
Children often don’t get artificial limbs while still growing, in part because the cost - often up to $40,000 - isn’t covered by many insurance plans, the University of Central Florida, whose students helped create Pring's prosthetic, said in a statement.
Schull formed an Internet group called E-nabling the Future after learning of a South African man who lost several fingers in a sawing accident.
The man, Richard Van As, teamed with a Seattle puppeteer to make a low-cost "Robohand" using a 3-D printer, and posted the design online.
“I realized if the design was freely available, it might be possible to enlist a virtual army of volunteers all over the world with 3-D printers,” Schull said.
About 1,300 people are now part of the group, he said, among them Albert Manero, a mechanical engineering graduate student at the University of Central Florida, who with a team of colleagues took on Pring’s case.
Manero and his collaborators designed Pring’s prosthetic hand and lower arm to be activated by the muscle energy in his bicep. The blueprint for the arm, which took eight weeks to create, will be donated to E-nabling for others to use, Manero said, joining six other hand designs already available through the group.
"Our team really feels strongly that you should not be profiting from giving children arms,” he said.
Reporting by Barbara Liston; Editing by Jonathan Kaminsky and Eric Beech