EnableUC Lending Helping Hands

By: Shannon Frohme
Date: March 4, 2016

EnableUC is a newly established College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) biomedical engineering (BME) student organization collaborating with e-Nable—a global network of volunteers and open source organization that provides a variety of cost-effective prosthetic hand designs.

Enable UC

The open source format of e-NABLE allows anyone with access to a 3D printer to design and produce their own prosthetic hand. e-NABLE originated at Rochester Institute of Technology in July of 2013 and has engineered and delivered over 1,500 3D printed hands to children.

Jacob Knorr, CEAS biomedical engineering student, and president and founder of EnableUC, found inspiration in the endless possibilities of engineering and 3D printing to help children in need in the Greater Cincinnati region.

While children are not typically candidates for prosthetic limbs since they will grow out of the expensive design, 3D printing solutions can produce the hands for as little as $15. The 3D-printed hands produced by EnableUC allow a child to grasp an object by simply flexing the joint closest to their residual limb. Knorr explains, “For partial hand patients, the device is designed to move the fingers as the child flexes their wrist. For children who do not possess a wrist joint, elbow flexion is required to close the prosthetic fingers and grasp objects.”

EnableUC executives Nicholas Bailey (left) Jacob Knorr (right) with Brody when he received his 3D printed hand from EnableUC

EnableUC executives Nicholas Bailey (left) Jacob Knorr (right) with Brody when he received his 3D printed hand from EnableUC

Giving Back to Cincinnati Children in Need

A local 13-year old boy named Brody who was born with a partial right hand, was the first person to receive an EnableUC hand.

While other children his age began to ride their bikes and play sports, Brody became increasingly frustrated that he wasn’t able to participate. His disability made it difficult to steer a bike, grasp a tennis racket or hold a lacrosse stick.

Knorr recalls EnableUC’s initial meeting with Brody, “We met him last November to get his palm measurements to design a custom-fit pearl white hand. We didn’t know it at the time, but Brody was a huge Star Wars fan, and his custom-made hand looked just like that of a Stormtrooper. Needless to say, he was thrilled to wear it at the Star Wars movie premiere last month!”

The 3D-printed hands are produced at UC BME facilities at Victory Parkway Campus, as well as from a clinical engineering facility at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC). Matthew Batie, a clinical engineer at CCHMC, has donated a great amount his own materials and time towards EnableUC’s cause. 

Currently, EnableUC 3D-printed hands are able to grasp medium-sized objects such as cups and water bottles, and allows children to perform activities such as riding a bike or playing tennis. Several months have passed since Brody received his new hand, and EnableUC was delighted to receive feedback from Brody’s mother that he has been enjoying his new hand, and is even able to throw and catch a ball with it. EnableUC projects to improve the prosthetic design in order for children to control the individual fingers needed to pick up a pencil or utilize an eating utensil.

Select to watch Brody test out his new Enable UC 3D-printed hand

Reaching to the East Coast and Beyond

The student organization is already making great strides—EnableUC recently joined forces with occupational and physical therapy students at Touro University in New York to develop assistive devices for patients with severe arthritis. As of this month, 29 patient-specific prototypes created last fall semester, were sent to Touro University to be 3D printed and used by real patients. The assistive devices help people with severe arthritis to perform daily tasks like typing on a keyboard, holding a cellphone and drinking from a water bottle.

“The collaboration was a major success and EnableUC is looking forward future projects with Touro University in the spring,” says Knorr.

Director of the CEAS Skeletal Tissue Evaluation and Engineering Laboratory professor James Lin, PhD, is EnableUC’s faculty advisor. Expressing his gratitude for EnableUC’s initiatives thus far, he says, “I have been very honored to serve as faculty advisor for EnableUC and have helped them connect the medical communities to explore the needs of children and families who are financially incapable of acquiring conventional prosthetics which start at $30,000.”

Last November on Santa Ono’s birthday, EnableUC visited UC’s President Santa Ono and presented him with a “Bearcat” hand. With the hand, he was able to hold a cello bow and play cello, hold a baseball, and even pick up small items like M&Ms.

UC's President, Santa Ono, plays the cello with an EnableUC 3D-printed hand on his birthday

UC's President, Santa Ono, plays the cello with an EnableUC 3D-printed hand on his birthday

“I got the idea to start EnableUC when I saw a news story about an industrial engineer making a prosthetic for a veteran using his home 3D printer. The veteran had lost his fingers in a work related accident and had completely lost the function of his right hand. With the help of his new hand, he was able to perform tasks he never thought would be possible again. This engineer’s work inspired me to bring 3D printing prosthetics to UC,” says Knorr. Additionally, Jacob concludes with exciting developments for EnableUC in the upcoming month. He adds, “We have identified our next patient, a 3-year-old from Nashville, TN, and will be providing him two hands in the next month.”

The following CEAS BME students currently hold EnableUC executive positions:

  • Jacob Knorr, president and founder
  • Nicholas Bailey, co-vice president
  • Yosef Kirschner, co-vice president
  • Kaitlyn Feeney, secretary

The College of Engineering and Applied Science is proud to recognize EnableUC for their great strides toward helping kids like Brody, and families in need, to live a fuller life through biomedical engineering and 3D-printing technology.