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How 3D prosthetics change lives in Pakistan

Updated May 14, 2016 04:08pm

KARACHI: Two weeks ago, Shabana moved her hand for the first time since her accident.

Where there were once amputated fingers, she now has a new, albeit bulky hand made of synthetic material. Designed to her body's measurements, and with no electronic elements, Shabana's artificial hand is among the first 3D printed prosthetics in Pakistan.

The project began with an unlikely meeting: Dr Hassan Zahid had recently moved back from Turkey when he ran into his neighbour, Rabi Imran, a 22-year-old working as an engineer at the time.

As the two got talking, the doctor told him about his travels abroad, where he witnessed the devastation of amputee children first-hand, and had seen the toll it can take on human life.

Concerned for those who get critically injured during war, Dr Hassan mentioned the need for affordable prosthetics in Pakistan, and other war-torn regions. He believed amputees should be reintegrated into society, and suggested that the advent of 3D printing technology could make this a reality sooner rather than later.

A 3D printed prosthetic hand. —Photo courtesy Grit 3D
A 3D printed prosthetic hand. —Photo courtesy Grit 3D

It took months of deliberation before Rabi began working on the project full-time. But once it was decided, there was no looking back.

Rabi gathered a team and began approaching various hospitals and medical professionals with his idea. He explained how 3D-printed prosthetics could prove to be a breakthrough for Pakistan’s disabled community. Meanwhile, he dipped into e-NABLE, the global open source 3D printing community, to plan his process.

He approached Asad Jabbar, and together, the two entrepreneurs officially founded Grit 3D. The two pitched their idea to The Nest i/o startup incubator, and were accepted.

Over the next few months, the incubator provided the ambitious team with mentors, technical guidance, and resources to move forward. But in order to make their idea a reality, and to build a successful case study for their mission, Grit 3D needed candidates who could try out the first few prosthetic hands.

That’s where Shabana came in. A young woman from Ghotki in rural Sindh, Shabana met with an unfortunate accident while she was preparing fodder for cattle. Her left hand was caught in a chaff cutter machine, and was almost completely severed. Rabi’s team found her while working with Dr Nabila Soomro at Dow University of Health Sciences.

On April 12, after months of planning, designing, and printing, Grit 3D installed its first 3D-printed prosthetic hand.

A 3D-printed logo. —Photo courtesy Grit 3D
A 3D-printed logo. —Photo courtesy Grit 3D

Within a few weeks, Shabana will be able to start stitching and sewing again. The Grit 3D team has planned an extensive rehabilitation process for her, to help her adapt to her newly acquired hand's functionality. Although each individual finger of the hand cannot be moved, the prosthetic allows a person to handle most day-to-day tasks.

Grit 3D is planning to develop more advanced prosthetics, such as those which allow amputees to move each individual finger using electronic signals linked to muscles. Because 3D printing technology costs are falling, the team is hopeful it will be able to explore lower limb prosthetics as well.

Although there is no pricing model yet, their aim is for it to be purchased by hospitals and given to patients free of charge. But the most important part is bringing hospitals on board. The start up is in talks with various facilities across the country to familiarise them with its mission: providing reliable and affordable prosthetics to amputees.