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Children with neuromusclar diseases, such as Duchesne dystrophy, have extreme difficulties with basic daily activities such as eating, drinking, getting dressed, playing with toys, getting hugs. But 3D printing technology may change that.

Recently Ivanhoe News Service reported the remarkable story of Hannah Monn, a four-year-old girl born with a disease called arthrogryposis, a condition that affects muscle strength. 

Arthrogryposis, also known as arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, results in “frozen” joints all over the body. When the fetus does is not able to move in the womb, either due to unusual pressure on the uterus or some neurological condition in the developing child, muscles and joints are often immobile after birth.

Affecting about 1 in 3000 infants, the condition is often diagnosed before birth, and it kills about 50% of infants born with it in the first year of life.  Children who survive the first year of life with the condition have to deal with extremely weak muscles and stiff joints, and often have to endure multiple surgeries to have any motion at all.

Hannah survived infancy, but by the age of three she was essentially immobile. “She just really couldn't move at all,” Hannah's mother Jennifer told an Ivanhoe reporter.

Fortunately for Hannah, her mother Jennifer was able to get in touch with a developer of a new technology known as WREX, the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton.

Many Children Suffer Muscle Failure

Many children suffer from illnesses that rob them of muscle strength. In addition to arthrogryposis, Duchesne dystrophy and muscular dystrophy take away children's ability to walk, throw and catch a ball, play with toys, and any opportunity to learn to feed themselves and dress themselves and take themselves to the bathroom. Muscular diseases can make it impossible for a child to get a hug. But the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton adds power to muscles that parents never dreamed possible.

The robotic exeskeleton is wore over the arms to give them extra power. More of a piece of clothing than a cyborg-like attachment, the exoskeleton is made of plastic printed overnight with a 3D printer. Rubber bands hold the device together and lift the arms and hands against the force of gravity.

Because the WREX is made of plastic, it is lightweight and inexpensive. Because it can be printed out, replacing the device as the child grows is simple. And because the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton can amplify the powers of muscles, it can give children the ability to move their arms in ways their own bodies simply cannot accomplish. “To see her have the ability to reach her arms out, to reach out and grab something is just a really amazing feeling for a mom,” mom Jennifer Monn told a reporter.

WREX Is Also Being Made Available for Adults

Children are not the only people who can benefit from robotic exoskeleton devices. At least two adults who had arthrogryposis and one who had a spinal degenerative disease have been fitted with the device. Even in adulthood, it became possible for them to feed themselves, use a television remote, and operate a keyboard for the first time in their lives. An unexpected beneficial side effect of the use of the device was relief from the pain and inflexibility of contracted muscles, and a greatly reduced frequency of falls.

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