VICTORIA – The Victoria Hand Project (VHP), which develops low-cost 3D-printed prosthetic hands for amputees, has been awarded $1 million in funding to help create more of their artificial limbs and expand their designs into spinal braces.

The million-dollar funding, provided by TD Bank, will help the UVic-based VHP create hundreds of prosthetic hands and spinal braces to treat scoliosis for people across North America. 

While the VHP has experience in providing prosthetics for people living in developing countries, over the next three years the hand project will be working to fit 200 amputees in Canada and America with hand prostheses, plus 160 children with scoliosis braces. 

The funding will also enable the non-profit group to establish relationships with prosthetic clinics across North America and access for people who live in remote or underserved regions of the continent. 

"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, a UVic professor of mechanical engineering and executive director of the VHP.

The Victoria Hand Project's custom 3D-printed scoliosis braces are designed to be a less expensive alternative to conventional braces, which are molded like a corset around a child's torso in a very labour-intensive process. The VHP says that these traditional braces may not be able to adapt to a child as they grow, and are generally not covered by Canada's health-care system. 

In contrast, a VHP 3D-printed spinal brace is said to only cost $150 in materials, rather than the average $5,000 cost of a traditional brace, and can be adjusted or created onsite at clinics using 3D printers. 

According to Dechev, a VHP spinal brace only takes about 10 per cent of the time it takes to create a traditional plastic brace, and weighs only half as much. 

The Victoria Hand Project first launched in 2015, when the non-profit organization began developing low-cost, 3D-printed prosthetic hands. 

While the VHP provides prosthetics around the world, the organization focuses on supporting developing nations through deliveries of the prosthesis and through work with the local community to train users and medical professionals on how to use and build their own artificial limbs.

"This project is an amazing opportunity to raise the standard of scoliosis care for people in Canada and the U.S. who live in communities that are currently underserved by specialized orthotics care and who are not able to afford the more expensive corrective devices to treat curvature of the spine,” said Dr. Brent Weatherhead, an orthopedic surgeon and Island Health’s head of pediatric surgery in a news release.