Functional 3D Printed Prosthetic Hands for Amputees in Need: Introducing the Victoria Hand Project

Recipients of the Victoria Hand Prosthetic Devices

Few nonprofits in 3D printing are as impactful as the Victoria Hand Project

— Jenny Chen, M.D., Founder and CEO of 3DHEALS

Jigme going down a slide wearing his Victoria Hand prosthetic arm, Nepal 2018

When Jigme Sherpa was only a few years old, he was playing on the roof of his small home in the Himalayas with his siblings when he fell off and broke his arm. For many people, this would be a normal medical procedure requiring a visit to a doctor to have the bone set with a cast. Unfortunately, Jigme and his family lived far away from doctors in the Upper Dolpo region of Nepal. The local healers were not able to help him, and his family was told he needed to go to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, as soon as possible. The only plane serving the region had crashed in the weeks before, so Jigme and his family needed to walk a month across mountain passes, to get to a road where they could take busses for two weeks to Kathmandu. By the time they arrived Jigme’s arm was badly infected and needed to be amputated.

Jigme wearing his Victoria Hand prosthetic arm, Nepal 2018

Sadly, this is the reality for many people around the world; medical care is not accessible and minor injuries turn into life changing events. This can be caused by many factors: hospitals or clinical care providers are far away, patients are not able to afford the hospital fees, or care providers are not able to provide specialized treatment. Access to care can be especially difficult for amputees.

A 2009 publication conducted by the World Health Organization found that there are over 30 million amputees living in low-income countries who are in need of prostheses [2]. Of these, Maurice LeBlanc of Stanford estimates that 3 million of these people are upper limb amputees [3].

Victoria Hand Project (VHP) is a Canadian non-profit organization with a mission to provide access to prosthetic care in under-served regions of the world, enabled by 3D printing technology. Started as a research project at the University of Victoria (UVic), the non-profit has come a long way. To date, the Victoria Hand Project has opened clinics in 8 countries — Guatemala, Ecuador, Haiti, Cambodia, Nepal, Egypt, Kenya, and Uganda — with plans to expand across Canada and the United States. By working with clinical partners around the world, VHP looks to fulfill this unmet need for prosthetic care — helping those most vulnerable who may not have any other options.

Bin Amin being fit with a VHP Child’s Hand, Kenya 2020
The Original TBM Hand, inspiration for the Victoria Hand

The first version of the Victoria Hand was developed in 2012. It was based on a design made by Dr. Nick Dechev during his Master’s studies at the University of Toronto in the late 90’s, in collaboration with Sunnybrook Hospital’s Bloorview MacMillan Children’s Center. His prototype prosthetic hand design, the TBM Hand [1], incorporated adaptive grasp, which allowed the fingers to move semi-independently to better conform to different objects. The design was innovative, but expensive to manufacture due to the inherently high costs of traditional machining techniques, such as milling. As desktop 3D printers became more affordable, the TBM hand was considered in a new way: could highly-functional prosthetic hands be replicated with additive manufacturing?

Isabel trialing an early version of the Victoria Hand, Guatemala 2015

The first field-ready version of the 3D printed Victoria Hand was tested in Guatemala in 2015, in collaboration with the Range of Motion Project. Twelve amputees were provided a Victoria Hand system (consisting of the hand, a wrist unit, a custom-made 3D printed limb socket, and shoulder harness system) and asked to provide feedback after using the hand in their day-to-day life. Unexpectedly, as the study came to an end, several participants asked if they could keep their prosthesis, as they found them extremely useful and did not have a prosthetic device of their own. These requests sparked the idea for the Victoria Hand Project: A non-profit organization that would design low-cost, 3D printed prosthetic hands for amputees living in developing countries, who may not have access to any device otherwise. VHP officially established as a non-profit organization in 2015.

Founding members of VHP (Michael Peirone, Dr. Nick Dechev, Josh Coutts) with early versions of the Victoria Hand, 2015

Since establishing as a non-profit, VHP has expanded across the globe, leveraging funding from organizations such as Grand Challenges Canada, Google.org, and Toronto Dominion (TD) Bank Group to outfit clinics with advanced manufacturing equipment, train staff, and fit amputees with prosthetic arms. Donations from the public allow amputees to be fit free-of-charge with a life changing prosthetic hand, providing the gift of independence to those who have lost limbs. The Victoria Hand has many features which allow users to complete daily tasks such as dressing themselves, carrying bags, feeding themselves, and conducting other activities that they could not do otherwise. Many have reported the hand being useful at home and school, and has even helped some recipients find and maintain meaningful employment. By using 3D printing and manufacturing the hands within the communities where they are used, the Victoria Hand costs only $100USD in materials, versus traditional prosthetic devices which can cost 10 times more. This affordability helps provide accessibility to prosthetic arms, without sacrificing functionality.

Youseff moving objects with his Victoria Hand prosthesis, Egypt 2017
Partners building a Victoria Hand, Cambodia 2018

VHP doesn’t work alone — VHP has partnered with clinical care providers in local O&P clinics or larger orthopedic hospitals that specialize in prosthetic and orthotic care. The designing and testing process occurs at the UVic engineering laboratory, whereas the assessment and fitting of patients occurs via these clinical partners in-country. VHP deems it very important to work with clinical partners (CPs and CPOs), who have the medical expertise to ensure patients receive the proper care, and are not harmed due to an improper fitting. For this reason, VHP does not make the prosthetic designs open to the public (i.e. not open-source), and VHP only works with certified prosthetists. The VHP team also does not fit devices directly — they work with certified prosthetists to do so. These prosthetists work alongside technical experts, to manufacture the custom prosthetic arms using 3D scanning and 3D printing. Together, these two teams of local professionals are able to provide the hands in-country to the people who need them, on-demand.

Vanna using his Victoria Hand to pick up a water bottle, Cambodia 2019

The Victoria Hand Project is made possible by support from generous donors and large network of partners and volunteers. As a small non-profit, donations go a long way to directly fit amputees with life-changing prosthetic arms. It is the generosity of our supporters that keep the project running, and allow VHP to continue to find and help those in-need around the world.

Dr. Nick Dechev, CEO of the Victoria Hand Project, Canada 2019

To learn more about the Victoria Hand Project’s work, or if you are interested in working with VHP, please visit www.victoriahandproject.com.

Michael Peirone, Chief Operating Officer (left) and Kelly Knights, Biomedical Systems Designer (right) in the VHP lab, Canada 2020

References:

[1] Dechev N. , Cleghorn W. L. , Naumann S. , Multiple finger, passive adaptive grasp prosthetic hand. 2001. doi: 10.1016/S0094–114X(01)00035–0.

[2] Eide, A. H. and T. Oderud. 2009. Assistive technology in low-income countries. In Disability & International Development: Towards Inclusive Global Health, ed. M. Maclachilan and L. Swarts, 149–160. New York: Springer.

[3] M. LeBlanc, Web.stanford.edu, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://web.stanford.edu/class/engr110/2011/LeBlanc-03a.pdf. [Accessed: 16- Feb- 2021].

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Victoria Hand Project

Victoria Hand Project

The Victoria Hand Project is a non-profit organization that designs low-cost, highly functional 3D printed prosthesis for amputees in-need across the world.