Science Scope

Little girl gets new arms from a 3-D printer

Little girl gets new arms from a 3-D printer

Posting in Design

Emma Lavelle was born without the use of her arms. A 3-D printed exoskeleton recently gave her the ability to use them.

Emma Lavelle was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), a genetic condition that causes joints and muscles to be stiff and nearly useless. At birth, Emma could move nothing but her thumb. After years of training and practice, she could move around without a walker, but her arms still hung by her sides, too stiff and weak for her to use.

“She would get really frustrated when she couldn’t play with things like blocks,” Megan Lavelle, Emma's mother, says in the press release. When Megan saw a presentation of the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX) being used by another patient with AMC, she immediately approached the doctor and asked if it could be used on Emma.

But the device wasn't made for someone so small. The presentation showed an eight year old using WREX. The doctors had worked to make the device smaller, and got it working on six year olds who were in wheel chairs. But Emma could walk, and was only two.

Still, they tried, and when they brought Emma into the workshop and put her in a an experimental WREX, they saw an immediate improvement. Emma began playing, eating on her own for the first time, and throwing her arms up in the air.

Here's a video, made by Stratasys, the company that prints the WREX device, of Emma using her exoskeleton:

Here's another video of an older patient using it, made by Jaeco Orthopedic, the people who invented WREX:

The WREX exoskeleton isn't new itself. Metal versions have been around for adults for a long time. But those are too heavy for most kids, especially those with difficulty lifting their arms. What makes this plastic version of WREX useful for kids is that it's light, made from the same plastic that LEGO bricks are made from, and it's easy to produce a custom model. SImply design, and print. And replacement parts are no problem, so as the child grows, new pieces can be printed to fit their bodies.

Via: PC World

Image:  Stratasys

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Rose Eveleth

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Rose Eveleth is a freelance writer, producer and designer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, OnEarth, Discover, New York Times, Story Collider and Radiolab. She holds degrees from the University of California, San Diego and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure