Student Technologists Use 3D Printing to Design A Prosthetic Limb for Growing Children


From left: Professor Medhat El Nahas, Juan Tovar, Aaron Russell, Edward Resendez, Alex Alvarado, and, Dan Nguyen, and Bill Dore (far right), owner of 3D Print Bureau of Texas, attended the ProLegs team's senior design presentation.
From left: Professor Medhat El Nahas, Juan Tovar, Aaron Russell, Edward Resendez, Alex Alvarado, and, Dan Nguyen, and Bill Dore (far right), owner of 3D Print Bureau of Texas, attended the ProLegs team's senior design presentation.

Artificial limbs have been used for more than 2,000 years. With new materials, innovative designs and technology, there has been remarkable progress made in the improvement of the quality of life for many individuals. However, growing children who have them can require replacement of their lower prosthetic limbs every year until they reach five years old; then every few years throughout adolescence, and every three to four years until they become adults.

The estimated cost of an individual prosthetic limb for a child ranges from $5,000 to $50,000 depending on the complexity and involvement of sensors and electronic components. Throughout an entire lifespan a person may grow out of up to 20 prosthetic devices - a major financial hurdle for most families.

Using advanced 3D imaging techniques, a team of University of Houston mechanical engineering technology student researchers sought a solution that would ultimately be more affordable. Team "ProLegs" designed and fabricated an anatomically correct prosthetic leg with an adjustable knee and foot socket that accommodates for growth and maximize mobility.

Medhat El Nahas, instructional assistant professor in the mechanical engineering technology program, served as the team's advisor. The collaboration between mechanical engineering technology and the 3D Print Bureau of Texas, LLC began with his initial visit to the company facility, followed by an invitation to speak to one of his classes. When the owner of the Houston-based company, Bill Dore embraced the importance of the project, he did not hesitate to commit funding and facilities to support the students. "Bill Dore personally visited our class and was impressed by our students 'sincerity and professionalism'. This is what compelled him to help the ProLegs team and others", said Dr. El Nahas. Depending on complexity, the cost of producing the models ranges from $400 to $3,000 per printout.