3D printing firm trying to help Alberta girl develop prosthetic hand has hit a snag
'I'm gonna be basically like the guinea pig'
A Calgary 3D printing company that's working with a young girl to develop a prosthetic hand that could serve as a prototype to help people worldwide has hit a snag.
They need help from a biomedical engineer to make it work.
Eleven-year-old Jerlena Rittwage, who was born with an underdeveloped left hand, is going to be their test case.
That hand — a printed, purple plastic one — was given to her more than a year ago by a pair of Grade 11 students in Cochrane.
They were experimenting with their school's 3D printer and heard that their project could help Rittwage, so they customized it for her.
It bends according to her wrist movements, and it allowed her to catch and throw a ball. She's still grateful for the gift, but she'd like to trade up to a more sophisticated prosthetic.
"I am looking for a new hand because this hand cannot carry heavy objects," she said.
That's where Colin Pischke and his company, Print Your Mind 3D, comes in. He heard about Rittwage in a CBC News story last year and thought she'd be the perfect test case.
So, through his company's charitable wing, called Enviromakers, his team has been working for months to make Rittwage a new high-tech hand.
But they don't yet have all the necessary expertise in place.
"What we have is the ability to make the raw objects. What we also have is the medical side, so somebody who can ensure that we're doing this in a safe way that will not cause the recipient harm," he said.
"What we don't have is somebody who can make the file that we will put into the printer. So if you think about paper printing, for example, we have the printer, we have the paper. We don't have the word file."
So Pischke and his team are looking for a volunteer with expertise in biomedical engineering and prosthetics.
"It's not a simple skill that we're looking for and it's not a simple task that we're asking them to do."
If they find the right expert, they plan to make a template for use around the world.
Rittwage says she's excited to be part of the project.
"I'm gonna be basically like the guinea pig because this is the first time that company has ever tried to make a hand," she said.
Pischke says part of his motivation for the prosthetic hand project is to show that 3D printing isn't just for trinkets and toys — that it can drastically reduce the cost of sophisticated, customizable devices.
"I've always been passionate about technology that I think will change the world for the better," he said.
With files from Anis Heydari