When Lehigh University seniors Colleen Perry, Elena Ramirez and Jeff Peisner knew of a 2-year-old disabled girl who was able to move her arms with the help of a 3-D printed device, they directed their attention to help more children with similar disabilities.
Today, after a nearly two-month summer-long project of working with pediatric therapists of Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network in Allentown, the students unveiled several prototype hand exoskeleton devices they developed, to help pediatric stroke patients. The presentation is an effort to show about 60 clinicians and staff of Good Shepherd what investing in a 3-D printer could mean for the future of the health network.
“One of my roles is to identify new technologies that might have a use at Good Shepherd,” said John Grencer, Good Shepherd’s administrative manager, technology program and strategic business planner. “And I wanted our technicians to know what is available.”
The 3-D printer makes a three-dimensional object of almost any shape through additive processes in which successive layers of material are laid down under computer control.
An alumnus of Lehigh University, Grencer approached Lehigh University’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation to find students willing to print and do a presentation for Good Shepherd’s clinicians of a 3-D RoboHand, a prosthetic recently developed for children born without fingers.
Grencer didn’t realize he would get much more than he bargained for out of the Lehigh students.
“I was really impressed by their curiosity and creativity,” Grencer said. “They really took this project and ran with it.”
He said Lehigh students became so intrigued by the boundless limitations that 3-D printing allows, so they set off on a mission to develop prototypes for hand devices that could assist in the rehabilitation of pediatric stoke patients.
The typical side effect from a child who suffers a stroke is the inability to properly grip and release objects with the hand, Grencer said.
With the help of the mechanical engineering training of Peisner, bioengineering students Perry and Ramirez spent the last two months at Lehigh’s Mountaintop campus in Bethlehem to create several prototypes of 3-D exoskeleton devices for use in pediatric stroke rehabilitation.
“3-D printing is a totally new territory,” Grencer said. “And these students developed all of this just by talking with technicians and patients.”
Grencer said the prototypes can be sent via email and can be printed for a very low cost and can be sized and customized easily for children.
“Imagine someone in an underdeveloped country that can’t afford the technology to make these products,” Grencer said. “And now they can get it in an email and print it for only 10 bucks.”