Our hands are not only functional, critical to our ability to carry out activities of daily living like buttoning our clothes, brushing our teeth or picking up a credit card off the table. They are also a lifeline to activities enhancing emotional comfort and social connectedness, from lifting a glass of wine for a toast to caressing a loved one’s face or waving to a friend. Data and statistics regarding the need for and use of hand prosthetics are limited. However, limb loss is surprisingly common and the numbers are growing. The World Health Organization estimates that only 1 in 10 people who needs assistive devices has access due to a variety of factors including high cost and lack of awareness, availability, trained personnel, policy and financing. Further, despite significant advances, prosthetic hands are still far inferior to their biological counterparts. All that is changing thanks to EU support of the HelpingHAND project.
‘Fluid’ synchronised movement orchestrated with a single conductor
Most prosthetic hands are electromechanical, with each finger driven by an individual motor, and use materials that cannot compete with nature. According to Ole Olsen, chief marketing officer at Hy5 and HelpingHAND project coordinator: “Hy5 uses electrically actuated micro-hydraulic technology to operate MyHand. Instead of five motors, one for each finger, MyHand has one motor. It powers the pumping of fluid to move the fingers via small hydraulic cylinders. The pump utilises low pressure to control hand closing around a 3D object after which high pressure kicks in to achieve a strong, secure yet adaptable grip. MyHand is therefore simpler, lighter, stronger, more durable and robust, less expensive and more functional than other hand prostheses within the same market segment.” Hy5 leverages 3D printing to manufacture titanium fingers and a hand palm with micro-hydraulic channels, a feature that would otherwise not be possible. Not only does it enable the use of lighter and stronger materials, it also reduces cost and production time while supporting personalisation of fingers to an individual patient’s sizes and needs via 3D scanning and CAD files.
Hand in hand
EU funding of the HelpingHAND project has helped pave the way to commercialisation. Olsen explains: “The project enabled us to collect a large amount of data from patients around the world, something that would have been very difficult otherwise. Feedback drives product evolution. It moves us toward our goal of giving the world a helping hand with innovative products that support all patients in reaching their goals regardless of socioeconomic background or geographic region. We have lots of great new things in our pipeline thanks to HelpingHAND.” HelpingHAND also fostered insight into the global prosthetic market and differences from country to country. Targeted marketing led to three major distributor contracts in Germany, Ukraine and the United States. Norway-based Hy5 services the Scandinavia market and is currently negotiating with distributors in Asia, Europe and the United Kingdom. “We have developed a first-of-its-kind hand prosthesis, making a name for ourselves in a market dominated by large international companies with a long history in the prosthetics market. We are very excited about the future and our opportunity to make an important contribution to the medical device industry and to patients worldwide,” Olsen concludes.
HelpingHAND, prosthetics, Hy5, hydraulic, MyHand, assistive device, 3D printing, prostheses, titanium