UVic project receives $100,000 to deliver 3D printed supports to children

A prototype back brace designed and 3D printed at the University of Victoria. (Photo courtesy of Derek Bell via Grand Challenges Canada).
A prototype back brace designed and 3D printed at the University of Victoria. (Photo courtesy of Derek Bell via Grand Challenges Canada).

From 3dprintingindustry.com comes news about a group of engineers at the University of Victoria (UVic – Victoria, British Columbia) who recently received a $100,000 seed grant for the development of 3D-printed back braces and other orthoses. An orthoses refers to externally applied devices designed and fitted to the body to achieve certain physical goals. The medical devices will be introduced as part of a non-profit initiative in low-income communities around the globe, helping treat children suffering from birth defects such as clubfoot and scoliosis. Left untreated at an early age, deformities in the feet and spine can cause permanent disabilities. Though relatively simple to treat, therapeutic care for such conditions can cost thousands of dollars if using traditional manufacturing methods. With 3D printing, the costs of these corrective devices can be dramatically reduced. Also, with proper training, production can be controlled by anyone with basic computer knowledge. This is the thinking behind UVic’s latest project, led by Associate Professor Nikolai Dechev.

Nikolai Dechev.
Nikolai Dechev.

Seed funding was granted to Dechev’s team by Grand Challenges Canada, an agency with altruistic goals similar to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to the non-profit’s mission statement: “Grand Challenges Canada seeks bold ideas from the best and brightest innovators to save and improve lives in low-income and middle-income countries.” The UVic project will start introducing its low-cost medical solutions in Nepal and hopes to roll out the program to other countries in the future. In line with a sister initiative at the university, 3D printed spine and foot braces have the scope to reach at least five other countries where The Victoria Hand Project has already set up labs to make custom prostheses. In a comment to the Times Colonist (Victoria, BC), Professor Dechev added: “Eventually, it’s expected the Victoria Hand Project will inherit the orthotic technology and deploy it.”

Guatemala was the first country to receive a Victoria Hand 3D printed prosthesis lab in 2014, following a previous grant from Grand Challenges Canada. Three years later, the lab continues to provide prosthetic point-of-care to the community, and has facilitated subsequent sites in Cambodia, Haiti, Nepal, Ecuador and Egypt. This legacy is something Dechev and his team will continue – with its spine and foot supports. “The technology is not just thrown over the wall to people. There’s a process of two to three years of follow-up to make sure everything is going well,” he added.

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.