Source: Vancouver Sun
B.C. non-profit's affordable 3-D printed prosthetics in the running for $750,000 prize
A B.C. non-profit society that makes three dimensional printed prosthetics for amputees in developing countries is one of the finalists for a Google grant worth $750,000.
The Victoria Hand Project started using 3-D printers to build low-cost customized prosthetic hands less than three years ago. Since then, it has fitted 70 people in Nepal, Guatemala, Ecuador, Haiti, Cambodia and Egypt who would otherwise go without. The project operates out of a biomedical design lab at the University of Victoria.
“If we win, we can expand into at least five new countries, and we can build hands for 750 people free of charge to them,” said Michael Peirone, a project designer and recent biomedical engineering grad. “Getting picked out of hundreds of projects in Canada, and by a company like Google, it’s pretty exciting.”
The prosthesis was designed in the 1990s by University of Victoria professor Dr. Nikolai Dechev when he was still a master’s student at the University of Toronto. It languished on a shelf for close to two decades because it was too expensive to produce. Then, in 2013, a mechanical engineering student named Josh Coutts came up with the idea of using 3-D printers to build the device.
The Victoria Hand Project partners with clinics in impoverished communities to set up a print centre with a 3-D printer, a 3-D scanner, and other supplies and equipment. It trains local technicians to use the machines, which print out a custom socket and prosthetic made of a bioplastic called PLA, or polylactic acid. The hand has an adaptive grasp and movable thumb and is activated by a shoulder harness.
The cost, which includes prosthetists and technicians, is about $300, a fraction of the usual $2,000 to $3,000 cost of a conventional prosthetic. Peirone, who has travelled to Ecuador and Nepal to set up the program, has witnessed first-hand the impact the prosthetics can have on people’s lives.
“In some countries, if people are missing a limb, they are ostracized from society or can’t get a job,” said Peirone. “After we give them a hand, they’re able to get a job. We have people using a pen and writing on a piece of paper again.
“When we work with patients and they say ‘thank you’ and their lives have changed, that’s what we do this for.”
The Victoria Hand Project is one of 10 finalists for the Google Impact Challenge, which will award $5 million to 10 non-profits. Judges will choose four organizations and the public will vote for one organization that will receive $750,000. Voting goes until March 28. The winners will be announced March 30 in Toronto.