Extending a helping hand -- Literally

By Alissa Kocer

Over 2 million people in the U. S. are living with limb loss, according to the Amputee Coalition, and prosthetics are expensive! Upper limb devices can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and they don’t last forever, especially if the person who needs one is a growing child. Even an adult will need repairs if not entire replacements as their prosthetics sustain normal wear and tear from everyday use. For people living in resource-poor communities or who have inadequate access to healthcare, the challenges of obtaining, maintaining and replacing prosthetics becomes even more difficult.

To help with the burdensome costs of prosthetics, a group of Duke medical students formed Hand2Hold, a service organization that constructs and distributes 3D-printed hand-assist devices to those in need. These devices are designed to be functional, affordable, customizable, replaceable and are available to a diverse population.

group displaying prosthetics they built“Think of what you do with your hands each day. They are how we work, how we express ourselves, how we perceive much of the world around us,” said Andreas Seas, M.D./Ph.D. student and co-directorof the Hand2Hold design team. “Restoring function to someone who has had something so critical taken away is priceless.”

Hand2Hold Presidents Sneha Rao and Matt Lyes started the group in 2016. After studying biomechanical engineering in college, Rao knew she wanted to lead related projects throughout her medical school career. Lyes had always been interested in biomechanical engineering and was enthusiastic about integrating this with his passion for medicine. Together, they were able to assemble a dynamic team capable of understanding engineering and its potential in improving medicine.

We hope to address healthcare disparity by directly providing our patients with low-cost and functional hand assist devices,” Rao said. “Given the increasing number of patients that either cannot afford insurance or have other economic obstacles, the ability to provide a device that will restore hand function is incredibly rewarding.”

“Patients receiving one of Hand2Hold’s hand-assist devices have an active say in what they need and want out of their new hand,” says Michael Lebhar, co-director of the design team. “This results in a device that will be more useful to that individual patient and will help the team continue to optimize other options for future patients.” In fact, Hand2Hold is on its way to reducing the cost of functional hand-assist devices from several thousands of dollars to pennies.

The Hand2Hold team is not just working on printing 3D prosthetics. They are also getting involved in their community and educating Durham students through a partnership with Building Opportunities and Overtures in Science and Technology (BOOST), a program funded through the NIH Science Education Partnership Award.

Incorporating Hand2Hold into BOOST’s existing curriculum will help promote STEM education for a student population that doesn’t normally have adequate exposure to these fields.  Engaging middle school students in the Hand2Hold design process will help them realize that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics can be extremely exciting fields. It also emphasizes that they have the potential to create and design amazing things in their future careers. Education Program Coordinator Hannah Martin said, “This program shows the students the multidisciplinary nature of medicine and lets them think about how different scientific fields interact to create new technologies that meet clinical needs. By introducing them to these ideas now, we can enable them to pursue science in the future.”

Currently, the Hand2Hold design team is collaborating with a team of Duke biomedical engineering graduate students to print custom fingers for several recent amputees.