Virginia Tech engineers create 3-D prosthetic hand for 12-year-old

Additional prototypes expected to add even more technology

SALEM – Virginia Tech engineering students and their advisor are opening doors for a 12-year-old Salem girl with the potential of helping countless more after creating a 3-D prosthetic hand.

Josie Fraticelli doesn't let anything stop her from making music but holding her trumpet is now easier with the help of the 3-D printed hand.

"It's nice," she said with a smile. "I like that I can look more like the other children."

Josie was born with a birth defect called amniotic band syndrome. It stopped the development of her hand, meaning she can't grasp items on her own.

Until now. 

Virginia Tech engineering professor Blake Johnson and a team of students created the prosthetic hand using open-sourced design plans available to anyone on the internet.

"This was kind of a neat application and opportunity for students in the department to get some hands-on with design learning experience," said Blake Johnson, an assistant professor in the department of industrial and systems engineering and the department of materials science and engineering.

In theory, the process is simple. It starts when a digital model is uploaded into a 3-D printer.

"The printer essentially deposits material layer by layer to build up the final 3-D device," Johnson said.

The printer does the rest while students troubleshoot. The end result is an affordable alternative to other prosthetics. 

"This device probably end up costing about $20-$30," Johnson said.

Other benefits are priceless.

"It's really just amazing to help a child and make a positive impact in their life," he said.

Josie can now grasp and release objects through motion in her wrist, picking up and holding objects like she's never been able to do with both hands before.

"Pouring any type of drink I can, it helps me hold the cup so it doesn't spill," Josie said.

Her parents say it opens many doors.

"I think this is just a beginning," said Tom Fraticelli, Josie's father. "She'll have the potential to do all sorts of things."

For now, Josie is enjoying the little things. 

"I like being able to do fist bumps," she said as she fist bumped Johnson.

Virginia Tech engineers aren't done yet, either. They're now working to improve the device by customizing it for Josie. They want to create other prototypes that are more anatomically correct and add technology using strategically placed electrodes that work with the brain to simulate natural movement of the 3-D printed hand.