B.C. innovation breaking down barriers

The absence of an upper limb can be profoundly life changing. Many everyday tasks, from getting dressed to eating, can range from difficult to impossible. Here in North America we never think twice about health aids that are available to us, but for those in third-world countries, accessing basic medical needs can be a struggle.

Engineers at the University of Victoria have created a technology that addresses this challenge. In 2015, the engineering team spun off a not-for-profit corporation called the Victoria Hand Project, made up of dedicated engineers, designers and volunteers who are focused on providing prosthetic hands to those who are able to use one. The core of the technology is 3D printing, which is used to fabricate an upper-limb prosthesis system that is specifically designed for distribution in low-income countries. This full-feature prosthesis can grasp a range of objects, has a movable wrist, is lightweight, and looks like a natural hand.

Conventional prostheses run from $10,000-$14,000, creating a financial roadblock for amputees in many developing countries. At a total delivered cost of $320, Director Nick Dechev and Lead Designer Josh Coutts have developed a much more affordable solution.

“Using 3D printing, 3D laser scanning and 3D computer software, our system allows in-country technicians to produce a customized 3D printed prosthesis matched to the unique anatomy of an amputee’s limb,” said Coutts. “We’ve partnered with regional medical and healthcare providers who fit the amputees, thereby allowing us to reach amputees in their countries. Generally, they can provide a custom-fitted prosthesis within one week.”

Because they provide a community with a 3D printer, a computer, and training, they’re able to teach locals a new skillset.

“With the Victoria Hand, amputees can regain function, improve their quality of life, and may have better access to employment opportunities,” said Coutts.

The Victoria Hand Project has already completed clinical trials in Guatemala and Nepal, with base operations set up in Cambodia. Their innovation has allowed people to cook and feed themselves – things they couldn’t do before.

For Nick and Josh, this is just the beginning. Affordable and readily available prosthetics are vital for quality of life and survival in third-world countries; however, they know more can be done. With their strong passion to help the less fortunate, we can expect to hear about more life-changing innovations from the Victoria Hand Project.