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3D-printed hands help amputees in Nepal

06/26/2015 04:17 EDT | Updated 06/26/2016 05:59 EDT
University of Victoria engineering graduate Pranav Shrestha is heading back to his home country of Nepal this week to give his father a hand — several hands, actually.

Shrestha and his twin brother have collaborated on a project at the university to create prosthetic hands with a 3D printer. Meanwhile, Shrestha's father is a founder of the orthopedic hospital in Kathmandu.

"The neat thing about this design is it conforms to the shape of the object. If you're holding an apple, or if you're holding a credit card, the force adjusts accordingly," Shrestha told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

'Neat solution to a growing problem'

The hands are custom built for each amputee using commercially available 3D printers and readily available plastic PLA (polylactic acid, often used in 3D printing), said Shrestha.

"This is a model that can be scaled infinitely, I would think, because the only thing that needs to be spread is the design, which Dr. Dechev has planned to make it open source. It's really a very neat solution to a growing problem."

According to Shrestha, some 80 per cent of amputees live in low income countries.

"Only two per cent of those have access to prosthetic care. 3D printing really brings down the cost of these prosthetic devices." 

Refining hand design

The project, led by Dr. Nikolai Dechev at the University of Victoria, has been running for several years and has gone through several iterations.

Researchers are now collecting feedback on the functionality of the printed devices from experienced amputees in Guatemala and Nepal.

The group expects to launch a crowdfunding campaign July 15 to establish printing stations in Guatemala and Nepal.

Their goal is to raise $90,000, which would cover startup costs and provide approximately 50 hands, Shrestha said.

"The ultimate goal is to provide a prosthetic device to anybody who needs and wants one in developing countries."

To hear the full interview with Pranav Shrestha, listen to the audio labelled: Lending a hand in Nepal.

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