The things that were considered science fiction not long ago, have since become reality.
Bioprinted Tissues and Organs are visible at the horizon and are giving hope to thousands of patients waiting for organ donations. Recently, however, a new medical prospect of 3D printing is blossoming and provides hope to the physically disabled.
It is 3D printed prosthetics. Hobbes, a dog who lost one leg after an unfortunate injury, has his hopes on this excursion of 3D printing into the world of prosthetics to restore his legs.
Two years ago, some veterinary students from the University of California found Hobbes, a six-year old terrier mix from Sacremento, limping in the streets. He was a stray dog who had badly injured one of his front legs.
It had fractured some time ago and hadn’t healed correctly due to the lack of proper medical supervision. The surgeons were left with only one choice: complete amputation of the entire leg. Andrea Bedsloe, a veterinary student at University of California, assisted the surgery. She explains:
“The break had healed incorrectly and the veterinary surgeons were forced to amputate.”
After the amputation, Bedsloe adopted Hobbes from the veterinary clinic and tried her best to give him a normal life. But she knew that without his fourth leg, life would be very difficult for an active terrier like him.
While he could still walk and climb stairs by hopping on his three legs, he got tired too quickly because of the extra effort. He couldn’t run either. Concerned for his wellbeing, Bedsloe contacted her friends at the University, Randy Carney and Holly Abney, to help her in restoring his fourth leg.
Carney, a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry and molecular sciences, explains Hobbes’ condition in the following words:
“When he goes on long walks, he starts to get fatigued, and it seems that it’s because he has this weird hop he has to do to move forward. And he’s so young and full of energy that it seemed like a waste if he couldn’t get moving like he wanted to.”
As the three friends pondered over how to restore Hobbes’ leg, Carney, who holds a master’s in material sciences, initially thought that an artificial leg made of carbon fiber would be the best replace his lost leg.
However, such a prosthetic costs a significant amount of money. So, the trio searched for cheaper alternatives.
They were aware of the ability of 3D printing to print complex parts economically.
Carney found out that there was a 3D printer for public-use at the Arcade Library in Sacramento County. The library allowed visitors to print whatever they wanted free of cost using their printer. This fact made the choice easier and the team immediately decided to use 3D printing to restore Hobbes’ leg.
The idea of 3D printed prosthetics is not new and has been successfully used in the past to help amputated animals. For instance, in February, we told you about Stumpy, a Three-Legged Turtle who was successfully given a prosthetic leg created by 3D printing.
Similarly, Bubbles, a Two-Legged Dog was provided a 3D printed wheelchair to enable him to walk around. Derby, a Dog with Deformed Front Legs, was also helped with 3D printed paw prosthetics. However, Hobbes’ case presented a particular problem to the team because his leg was amputated so near his chest, that there was practically no stump left.
This meant that even if an appropriate 3D Printed prosthetic leg was designed and printed, it couldn’t be directly attached to his body.
After much deliberation, the trio came up with a solution to this problem. They decided to use a 3D printed harness to fix the prosthetic leg to Hobbes’ chest. The harness was designed and checked on the dog’s chest and it fit him perfectly. The team is now working on perfecting the design of the leg prosthesis.
Hopefully, they’ll be finished soon and give Hobbes not only his legs but also a happier, more active future. Andrea Bedsloe herself explains her journey with Hobbes from his surgery, two years ago to the present day on Sacramanto Bee’s YouTube channel.
3D Printed prosthetics, such as the one being designed for Hobbes, have exciting prospects. They provide a ray of hope not only for physically disabled animals but also for disabled humans since they are cheaper and more readily available than traditional prosthetics. Holly Abney, the third member of the veterinary team, says:
“Most three-legged dogs can function just fine without a fourth limb but the team figured they’d give it a shot anyway. Even if Hobbes doesn’t take to the limb, their design could have implications for animal prostheses in the future.”
Perhaps, in the future, 3D printed prosthetics will bridge the gap between living parts and machines and thus, allow humans to amplify their faculties (such as strength) instead of just replacing damaged parts.
3D printing is still in its infancy and already, it has opened our eyes to a world of new possibilities. If the advancement of 3D printing over the past decade is any indicator of its future trend, there’s no doubt that soon it will replace almost every other manufacturing technology known to man.
What’s more, its benefits won’t remain confined only to healthy people. As shown by 3D printed prosthetic parts, diseased and disabled will benefit equally if not more than healthy people.
What do you think about 3D Printed Prosthetics? Do you know any other interesting story about 3D printing helping disabled animals or humans? Let us know in the Comments. Also, please Like and Share the article with your friends.