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UVic project rebuilds lives one hand at a time

The helping hand jokes never cease in a lab where students build hands every day.

Occasionally someone will pop in asking for “a hand” with something, the students gathered in the small University ofVictoria lab say with a laugh.

They get more than they bargained for from the Victoria Hand Project.

It’s an old joke, almost as old as the story behind the project.

It starts with a prosthetic hand created decades ago by Victoria Hand Project leader Nick Dechev Ph.D, P.Eng. as a mastersproject.

What would cost $10,000 then, would cost $3,500 to mass produce now, Dechev explains.

“The hand was sitting in a drawer. Then a new technology comes along, 3D printing, and suddenly an old idea becomesfeasible,” he said. “I’ve been working on research projects that go nowhere long enough. This is not about publishingpapers.”

In 1999, he designed the original TBM Hand prosthesis, the foundation for the current Victoria Hand. The project provides3D printed upper-limb prosthetics to amputees in the developing world. Years of engineering development, refinement,and testing produced a low-cost device with capabilities rivalling some leading devices.

“Now 54 people in the world have this as their way of living,” Dechev said.

Access to healthcare is a major challenge faced by persons in developing countries. VHP establishes a 3D print centre in adeveloping country, equipping it to make the printed prosthetics, and employs and trains a local full-time technician.

“People in developing countries don’t have access to prostheses the way we do in North America,” Dechev said. “It’s morethan just the prosthetics being expensive. They lack the infrastructure. It’s not a priority.”

The project provides training, technology and technical for projects in Guatemala, Haiti, Ecuador, Nepal and Cambodia.

“It’s something about helping people who don’t have the resources,” said Mike Peirone. “If they’re missing a limb they try tohide it because it’s a social thing. We’re so lucky in Canada, why not help?”

As biomedical or engineering students, it also comes down to a tangible way to help, while using their developing skills,said Alex Burden.

“A prosthetic is one of the most real, direct ways we can apply what we’re learning,” Burden said. “There are hundreds ofcharities, this is something I want to do in my career as well.”

Basem Badr noted his origins in Egypt as a prime example.

“Something simple like this, it changes their life,” he said. “It’s difficult for them to find someone to care for them.”

Badr notes it’s a simple, non-electric hand that makes a huge difference.

The fact it can be repaired locally adds to that, said Burden.

“Because it’s 3D printed, if something snaps, instead of a useless appendage they can get the part printed locally.

“We build some here, the majority of the 54 were built in the country they’re in,” Burden said.

Funded through Grand Challenges Canada and working out of a UVic lab, the project is always looking forward.

“We’re continuing to work on a nicer design,” said Dechev, also an associate professor, and director of the BiomedicalEngineering Program at UVic.

VHP also hopes to develop a program in North America, a one-for-one where a client pays a little more, providing funds forone to be built in a developing country.

Visit victoriahandproject.com to learn more about the project.

 

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