Research News

Bringing 3D Printed Lower Limbs to Those in Need

February 18, 2020

Two Khalifa University Mechanical Engineering students have presented their work at Innovator 2020 in Abu Dhabi to raise awareness of the important role additive manufacturing can have in medical fields. Abdulaziz Ali Alzurahi and Abdulla Mohammed Alkatheeri debuted a lower limb prosthetic device, designed with advanced creative engineering technologies and manufactured using the latest 3D printing technology.

“The project centers around producing patient-specific lower limb prosthetics for individuals who have lost their limbs due to genetics, diabetes, military combat, etc.,” explained Alzurahi.

Additive manufacturing, commonly called 3D printing, is a relatively new but promising technology available to prosthetists. A prosthetic hand can cost thousands of dollars and take months to produce using plastic molding techniques. The prosthetic limb showcased by Alzurahi and Alkatheeri costs less than USD1000 to print and can be produced in just 48 hours.

“Our goal is for this project to help people who cannot afford to buy a traditional prosthetic acquire a device for their daily assistive needs,” added Alzurahi. “Our work can help people in need in the UAE.”

Thanks to their relatively high accessibility and affordability, 3D printed prosthetics are slowly changing the face of medicine. While hands and arms are some of the most common printed prosthetics and can cost as little as USD50, Alzurahi and Alkatheeri chose to focus on lower limb prosthetics.
Traditionally, a prosthetist would create a socket from a reverse mold of the patient’s stump to measure as carefully as possible the precise pathology. Great care must be taken to avoid nerves and tender areas that may not tolerate the continuous pressure of resting on a prosthetic limb. This is a cumbersome and time-consuming process.

Uniquely, this 3D printed limb offers a huge advantage over conventional prosthetics currently on the market: using 3D printing and advanced medical software, Alzurahi and Alkatheeri can use advanced geometry to offer exact socket fittings for each patient, individualizing the prosthetic to a degree unheard of before. Additionally, 3D printed prostheses are a cost-effective way to keep up with a child as they grow or damage their current one as they enjoy their childhood.

“The other major advantage to a prosthetic that can be produced quickly and cheaply is that this is particularly helpful for children,” said Alzurahi. “A child’s lower limbs are continuously growing, which makes 3D printing the best current solution to their cases in particular. Usually, children have to change their sockets after six months of prosthetic use. That can get very expensive.”
Importantly, the prosthetic produced by Alzurahi and Alkatheeri can be manufactured using various 3D material types, geometrical shapes, images, and colors. They can make a prosthetic fun, which they say is crucial for encouraging children to like their prosthetics and interact more efficiently and enthusiastically with them.

“We can produce any design a child wants, based on their interests, hobbies or even cartoon characters,” said Alzurahi.
Alzurahi and Alkatheeri are continuing to develop their prosthetic and are currently working on a shock-absorbing technology to enhance the user experience.

3D printing materials cannot yet compete with the long-term durability of traditionally-made prostheses, and most printing plastics commercially available aren’t strong enough to support body weight. But this will soon change, and in the meantime, those with access to more advanced printers and materials are making cost-effective prosthetics a reality for those in need.

Jade Sterling
News and Features Writer
18 February 2020

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