Intro: 3D Printing MRI Compatible Tools for Apraxia Study
My housemate, Zarinah, who happens to be a neuroscientist, consulted me about how to make tools that no one would know the use of. My first thought was to hack together different things to create weird/random tools. Upon further investigation, it turned out she wanted two sets of MRI compatible tools (meaning they could not have any metal in them). The first set were replicas of existing, everyday tools that most people use. The second set were replicas of existing tools that were unfamiliar to most people. So my dream of hacking wild and crazy tools was broken.
So why do we need MRI compatible tools? There is a disability called apraxia in which people cannot execute motor skills . Their brains cannot communicate with their limbs. Apraxia is often caused by stroke but it can also be genetically passed down. These patients know what the tools are and how they are used, and can describe how to use them, but when they are handed the tool, they end up using it incorrectly. For example when handed a toothbrush, they brush their hair, or when handed a hammer, they put it in their mouth.
I suggested to her that we 3D print the tools. This would be perfect because it is possible to create exact replicas of things and 3D print them, and since they are plastic they are completely MRI compatible.
I started with the familiar tools first. Some videos of how they were modeled can be found here, here and here. I had to be careful about material thicknesses since the original tools were made out of metal and so they were much stronger at thinner thicknesses. With the pliers, I was able to model them so that they printed in one piece but still functioned mechanically.
For the unfamiliar tools, I sat down with Zarinah to search the world wide web for unfamiliar tools. This was actually quite challenging. The tools had to be a certain size, since they had to fit in the printer, and they also had to have simple functions since the patient would be using them inside the MRI scanner.
What does each tool do? (from left to right, top to bottom)
Boot hook (for removing boots)
Reamer (for making holes wider)
Paint Scraper (for scraping paint off walls)
Pot Lid Holder (for lifting and holding old-fashioned pot lids)
Chip-Chop (for breaking up ice in cocktails)
Leather Prick (for making indents in leather)
Cigar box Opener
Acrylic Cutter (for cutting sheets of plastic)
Step 3: MRI Studies!
Now that all the tools are printed, Zarinah will be testing non-apraxia people to see how their brains work when they are using tools. If non-apraxia effected parts of their brain are being using during tool use, those parts of the brain could be stimulated and possibly help apraxia patients relearn how to use tools.