A new grant to a team at the University of Victoria will allow rural communities in North America to have access 3D-printed prosthetics and braces.
The Victoria Hand Project (VHP) won a $1 million grant from the 2019 TD Ready Challenge. Since 2015, the VHP has provided low-cost, 3D-printed prosthetics to 130 people around the world with stations in Uganda, Egypt, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nepal, Haiti and Cambodia. VHP has two models of hands: a functional hand that can open and close if the wearer moves their shoulders and an aesthetic hand that appears more natural.
In July, the VHP also began printing braces for people with scoliosis in Nepal, a congenital spinal condition which affects three in 100 children.
Now, the options will be put forward to 200 amputees and 160 children with scoliosis in North America.
“By leveraging new technologies and engineering design, along with our clinical partnerships, we are able to create health care technology that is accessible for many people who normally cannot afford this care,” said Nick Dechev, executive director of the VHP.
The 3D-printing technology pares down the costs for prosthetics and braces to a fraction of their normal expense; a prosthetic hand or brace can cost thousands, but a VHP hand costs $80, while a brace costs $150.
“Surprisingly scoliosis braces are not covered by Canadian health care, and in the US if you don’t have insurance it’s not covered either, so there’s actually a huge need in Canada and the US,” Dechev said.
The 3D scanning and printing technology also helps move things forward quickly, with measuring, fitting and printing taking roughly a day.
Michael Peirone, chief operating officer for the VHP added that printers are stationed locally so that once a prosthetist has seen a patient, communities can make their own hands and braces, and any adjustments can be sent remotely.
“This is really big for us,” Perione said. “We’re really excited because there have been a number of Canadians who have approached us and we’ve tried to help them off the side of our desks but we couldn’t really afford it. Now we can help people across Canada and across the U.S.”
The funding will come through in mid-January. While exact communities have not yet been identified, Dechev said it’s part of the team’s goal to help people in the northern territories.