A new tone: Limbs printed in a 3D lab
A Jordan lab prints limbs for the war-wounded and for disabled children
Iraqi soldier Abdullah lost his left hand fighting the Islamic State group but now he has a prosthetic one — thanks to a 3D printing lab in Jordan.
Abdullah was wounded in a mine blast as Iraqi forces battled to oust the jihadists from Iraq’s second city Mosul last year. His right hand was also seriously wounded.
The 22-year-old is one of a group of Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni amputees to benefit from a 3D-printing prosthetics clinic at a hospital run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF).“It’s not easy to replace a hand, but at least the new device gives me some autonomy and means I don’t rely too much on my brother to eat,” said Abdullah, who asked not to use his real name.
Wearing jeans and a dark green shirt, he said he had been transferred from Mosul to a hospital in the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital Arbil before heading to Jordan.
“Now I feel better,” he said, managing a small smile. “I hope I can heal my right hand too.”
The 3D printing technique allows the team to create simple upper limbs without moving parts, slashing the costs of manufacturing advanced, custom-made prosthetic limbs, according to MSF.
The MSF Foundation, a wing of the charity dedicated to research and development, set up a prosthetics production centre in Jordan’s Irbid last June.
A team of medics and technicians use the technique to help people born with genetic deformations as well as the war-wounded from across the region.Doctors start by taking photos and measurements and sending them to the laboratory in Irbid, 100 kilometres north of Amman.The data is entered into a system that designers use to create a virtual model of the limb, which is then printed and sent to MSF’s Al-Mowasah hospital in Amman for fitting.
Several organisations have developed 3D printing for amputees in recent years, but MSF says its project is a first in the Middle East.
The clinic aims to give orthopaedic care to as many people as possible affected by the region’s conflicts.
Project co-ordinator Pierre Moreau said it had treated 15 Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, Palestinians and Jordanians since its launch.
“We chose Jordan because we have one of the biggest hospitals and most advanced, and it is a stable place in the middle of a war region so we have access to patients from Syria, Iraq and Yemen,” he said in English.It has also benefitted people born with deformities, such as seven-year-old Palestinian refugee Asil Abu Ayada from the Gaza camp northwest of Amman.
She lives with five brothers and her parents in a mud house, and was born without a right hand. With her new prosthetic hand, she can now go to a normal school and even sketch drawings.
Too shy to speak to reporters, she sat manicuring her artificial fingers with the help of her sister Ines.The 3D devices range in cost from $20 and $50 — a fraction of the cost of conventional prosthetic devices, which can cost thousands of dollars.
“You can design something that can suit this patient and is very specific to the activity of the patient,” Moreau said.
The new technique was developed by MSF in collaboration with Fab Lab, a digital manufacturing laboratory in Jordan.
Another beneficiary was Ibrahim al Mahamid, from Daraa in southern Syria, who suffered injuries to his left hand in a bombing raid in 2013.
A 33-year-old taxi driver, he had the hand amputated at a field hospital in Syria before moving to Jordan.
“The new prosthesis has given me hope to be able to go back to work and take care of family expenses,” he said.