Worcester students helping kids worldwide by building inexpensive prosthetics

WORCESTER. — Advances in prosthetic limbs have been amazing in recent years, but with all that technology involved comes a big price tag. One that can often make them out of reach for some patients.

But a group of high school students in Worcester are trying to change that by making usable prosthetic hands for a small fraction of the cost and providing them to people who really need them.

To fulfill that goal, the 3D printer at the Mass Academy for Math and Science at WPI has been busy this semester printing usable and inexpensive prosthetic hands.

The devices look a little like Legos on steroids, but they can truly change a life, according the school’s STEM visiting scholar, Rachel Johnson. “These prosthetics don't require electricity.  They’re not electronic, so a comparable prosthetic in a hospital can cost $4-5 thousand.”

The hands created in Worcester only require about $35 in materials, as well as a great deal of patience and precisions from the dedicated students.

All semester they’ve been assembling the hands, which will be shipped overseas to developing countries, where children would otherwise go without.

Junior Abigail LoPresti said she feels like she is touching other parts of the world from her classroom in central Massachusetts.  “On top of it, you have functioning prosthetics that can actually be used to pick things up and used in everyday day life.  I think that is life changing.”

Varnika Sinha is also a junior at the Academy.  She thinks it’s really cool that she is building hands that will be used by children thousands of miles away.  “I wish I could see them because it would be very enlightening to see someone get a hand, the joy of getting the hand.”

And while these students spend their time after class helping children they don’t know, they are also learning science in a very tangible way.  LoPresti is now interested in pursuing a career in medical engineering.  “If I can build devices that are able to make someone’s life, better, easier, yea, this has definitely had a big influence on my life.”

Johnson sees this program as a win-win all the way around.  “We are shrinking the world from a technological perspective.  We are able to have an impact beyond Worcester, beyond Massachusetts, or even the U.S.”

The hands will allow children to do all kinds of simple tasks.  They open and close as the person flexes their wrist or elbow.  That creates tension on the strings inside the device which moves the fingers.

These low cost models are considered ideal for children because they can be replaced more easily as the child grows.