The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday January 19th

UNC student builds prosthetic hand for 7-year-old using 3-D printer

Jeff Powell, a senior biomedical engineering major and design chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill Biomedical Engineering Club, made a prosthetic arm for 7-year-old Holden Mora with 3-D printing technology. Powell uses the three model fingers on the table to explain how each part of the hand is made.
Buy Photos Jeff Powell, a senior biomedical engineering major and design chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill Biomedical Engineering Club, made a prosthetic arm for 7-year-old Holden Mora with 3-D printing technology. Powell uses the three model fingers on the table to explain how each part of the hand is made.

Powell used 3-D printing technology to create a prosthetic hand for 7-year-old Holden Mora, who was born with symbrachydactyly, a condition where the hand stops developing early in amniotic development.

“He’s extremely adaptable,” said Holden’s mother, Bridget Mora. “If you’ve only ever had one hand, then that’s what you’re used to.”

After learning about the use of 3-D printing for prosthetics on the internet, Bridget Mora said she and her husband, Peter, approached the occupational therapist at Holden’s elementary school to find the technology in the area.

The family was eventually put in touch with Richard Goldberg, director of undergraduate studies for biomedical engineering at UNC . Goldberg teaches a senior design class in which students create different technologies that help people with disabilities.

Goldberg said Holden’s case did not fit well for his yearlong class, but he still wanted to help Holden and get the technology to him as soon as possible.

“I did not want him to have to wait a year to get what he needed,” Goldberg said. “This was something Holden wanted and approached his parents and us about. It’s important to give him this assistive hand because it’s something that’s important to him.”

Goldberg said he asked Powell if he wanted to take on the project in May.

Powell said he used existing designs found online to make the arm. He tried two designs before settling on the final design, which was named the Cyborg Beast and was designed by Creighton University assistant professor Jorge Zuniga and a team of researchers.

“The design I’m using is actually from a guy in South America,” he said. “So it shows the power of the internet.”

Powell used a machine called the MakerBot Replicator 2X. He likened the machine’s process of creating parts to squeezing icing out of a bag.

The parts for the final design — which included pieces of plastic, screws, fishing line and elastic string — cost less than $20. He said other prosthetics can cost thousands of dollars, which can be especially costly for children who outgrow them quickly.

“The advance in 3-D printing allows us to make exactly what we want at a very cheap price,” Powell said.

Bridget Mora said Holden was excited when he first got to use the hand in September.

“He said it was pretty cool,” she said. “I think he was excited to get it partly because it’s made in his favorite color: red.”

The prosthetic hand now allows Holden to grip items like cups and toys. His mother said Holden will ultimately decide how often he wants to wear his prosthetic.

“At the moment, his plan is to grow up and save snow leopards,” she said. “We’re just really excited to see what he chooses to do with his life. He’s a very bright little boy with a lot of interests, and we’re curious to see where that takes him. “

Powell plans to continue making prosthetics for Holden as he outgrows them and hopes to make prosthetics for others.

“If we just make this for Holden, then I’m fine with that,” he said. “If we could help a thousand people, that would be amazing too.”

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