University of Victoria alumnus Michael Peirone has witnessed the impact receiving a prosthesis can have on a person. In February 2020, he helped set up a clinic in Kenya and remembers a visit from a seven-year-old boy named Bin-Amin. When Bin-Amin was three years old, he fell into a pile of burning goat dung, resulting in severe burns and partial amputations of all four limbs. He had to rely on his mother for most tasks, including feeding himself. After trying on the custom-made prosthesis, he immediately started walking around the room, smiling and shaking his mother’s hand.
“It’s one of those stories where it shows you how useful that prosthetic hand can be to someone, and he just wanted to play, pick things up around the workshop and see he had it again. one hand,” says Peirone, BEng’s 16, CEO of the Victoria Hand Project (VHP), which designed the device.
Located in an unassuming hallway in UVic’s engineering lab wing, the VHP is buzzing. Prosthetic limb prototypes and photos of smiling recipients line the pegboard walls, while staff click on their computers and talk on the phone. Boxes line the perimeter of the room next to clear plastic bins marked “fingertip supplies” and “demonstration sockets.”
Amid the workshop clutter, a battery of 3D printers and scanners sway methodically back and forth, humming and buzzing like a symphony of fax machines. It’s an eerily pleasant buzz that Peirone has grown accustomed to hearing since he was a biomedical engineering student in 2014.
“What really appealed to me was the excitement of 3D printing, 3D designing,” says Peirone, who started out as a co-op student and now oversees the day-to-day operations of the charity. “As a student who had never seen 3D printing before, I thought that was really cool. But it was working with patients that showed me how amazing work can be.
Originally started as a research project by UVic Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Nikolai Dechev, the Victoria Hand Project now works with partners in 10 countries, designing and developing low-cost 3D printed prostheses for amputees in the need. VHP helps set up clinics with their own 3D printing equipment in areas where customers can fit in and receive their prosthesis in a short time at little or no cost.
Thanks to advances in 3D printing and falling costs, it takes around 36 hours to manufacture all the components that go into a single Victoria Hand, priced at US$100.
“This technology is changing so rapidly — materials, 3D printers, software — everything is getting cheaper, faster, faster,” says Peirone. “Fortunately, there are also a lot of materials that are becoming increasingly environmentally safe and recycled. I think that’s one of the big things with 3D printing is that people think, ‘Oh, all that plastic’, but the kind of plastic we use is derived from starches, like corn, and it can be recycled.
The devices come in four different models to suit user needs. To date, VHP has provided 200 prosthetic devices, instantly transforming the lives of those who receive them.
“Someone who gets a prosthetic arm can really change their life – it can allow them to get a better job, to be able to go to school, to better support their family,” says Peirone, adding that the device promotes greater autonomy. trust, building trust.
Where help has been limited
So far, the focus has been on countries like Kenya, Guatemala, Nepal, Haiti and Cambodia where there is a gap in prosthetic care, due to cost, scarcity of trained technicians or lack of infrastructure. With a $1 million TD Ready Challenge prize, VHP is now expanding its reach across North America. The goal is to help children with scoliosis and upper limb amputees in remote and underserved communities in the United States and Canada where income and access to prosthetic care can be a barrier.
“It was really important for us,” says Peirone. “People often ask us why we don’t help Canadians. And above all, we were saying, well, it’s because Canadians are covered. And something we learned is that not all Canadians are covered. It differs from province to province – there are prosthetics and orthotics centers only in major cities,” says Peirone, adding that coverage in the United States can also be inconsistent.
VHP also serves as an important training ground for UVic students looking to gain experience and skills. Peirone’s team includes biomedical and mechanical engineering alumni Kelly Knights, Kim Arklie, and Jacqui Moreland, two co-op students, and approximately 20 volunteers each semester. He estimates that 40 to 50 UVic graduates have worked for VHP over the years. In addition to feedback from prosthetic users, the VHP team values the connection with students.
“It’s also really great to hear about students who have worked with us and developed a passion for giving back in other ways, like trying to go to school to become a prosthetist or other types of charities or non-profits to give back,” says Peirone. “It really feels good to know that they came through VHP and developed that passion.”
For more details on this project, visit the Victoria Hand Project. You can also watch the latest project video at Youtube.