A Helping Hand to Those in Need—Improving the World with 3D Printing

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In many developing countries, amputees do not have access to a usable prosthetic device. Often times, there is a major lack of resources and conventional prosthetics are too expensive for amputees to afford. The Victoria Hand Project (VHP) makes low-cost, 3D printed prosthetic devices and works with local communities to get proper prosthetic care to the people that need it.

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Amputees may want a prosthetic device for many different reasons. For some people, missing limbs can lead to low self-esteem and social exclusion from the community. For others, it can make it difficult to find and maintain meaningful employment. For all, it can make eating, cooking, dressing, and washing challenging to complete. By providing amputees with a usable prosthetic device, confidence is increased, employment can be found and everyday tasks can be carried out without assistance. 

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The Victoria Hand is a complete body-powered prosthesis consisting of a hand, a wrist, a limb-socket, and a harness and costs only $240 USD to print, assemble and fit. As a comparison, conventional prosthetic devices can cost thousands of dollars. The Victoria Hand has high functionality, natural appearance, and is custom-made to fit each amputee. 

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VHP’s approach has three key features: 

(1) setup of a production/fabrication center and training to make 3D printed prostheses on-site within developing countries; 

(2) training and working with clinical intermediaries and medical practitioners to provide professional care for amputees; 

(3) on-going operations support for both the 3D Print Group and the Clinical Care Group. 

Not only are amputees able to get replacement parts easily and on-demand, but the local economy is supported by creating jobs for people living in the country. 

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All of this is made possible with 3D-printing technology! The Victoria Hand Project first began as a Master’s project in 2001 by the Executive Director of the project, Dr. Nikolai Dechev, while at the University of Toronto. Dr. Dechev wanted to create a hand capable of adaptive grasp so amputees could have a device that had a more mechanical function, could grip onto objects better and looked more natural. The hand was ground-breaking but, as it was originally machined from metal, cost thousands of dollars to manufacture. It wasn’t until 3D printing became readily available that the hand was looked at again. 3D printing paved the way for the success of the project, with parts manufactured at a fraction of the original price. 

Grand Challenges Canada provided a grant in September 2014 to further the research and, in February 2015, the first trials in Guatemala began, with patients testing the 3D-printed Victoria Hand for up to eight weeks. The users not only gave insightful feedback but also loved the hand, asking to keep it after testing was done. This sparked the idea for the Victoria Hand Project—a non-profit organization that could develop a high-quality, low-price prosthesis for the developing world. Established officially in July 2015, VHP has since partnered in seven different countries around the world and fit over 100 amputees with trans-radial (below elbow) and trans-humeral (above the elbow) upper-limb prosthetic devices.

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The Victoria Hand is currently available in seven countries worldwide

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A woman in Cambodia uses the Victoria Hand to wash dishes

 

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Kevin from Guatemala holding a 3D printed ball with his 3D printed prosthetic hand

 

With feedback from the in-country partner groups, prosthetists and amputees, VHP works to make the device even better and more user-friendly. VHP’s mission is to provide upper-limb prosthetics to amputees in need, and hope the future brings chances to help many more amputees across the world!

See some of the newest innovations, including a Child’s Hand and a Force Doubler, at VictoriaHandProject.com

 

About the Author

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Kelly Knights is a fourth-year biomedical engineering student at the University of Victoria who has been volunteering with the Victoria Hand Project since September 2016. Kelly completed a co-op work term with the Victoria Hand project in Fall 2018, where she assisted with the design, development, and testing of the new Force Doubler device and the Child’s Hand. Kelly has also been involved with media outreach, the creation of training documentation and assembly of the Victoria Hand. 

 

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