A Helping Hand

Student’s low-cost prosthetic device changing lives

Jerry Ennett could put the puck in the net as a junior hockey player. But it is in the arena of affordable prosthetic devices that the biomedical engineering co-op student is becoming a different kind of impact player.

The low-cost prosthetic hand he produced on a 3D printer made him a winner in the 2016 World Vision Social Innovation Challenge. The hand project, which aims to provide prosthetics to those around the world who cannot afford them, took him on a medical humanitarian mission to India in the fall.

“The first time I heard about prosthetics was when a friend on my hockey team was diagnosed with leg cancer,” Ennett says.

“It was found as a result of a fracture he received on the ice. He ended up having to get an above-knee amputation.”

Ennett began crafting prosthetic hands on a 3D printer about three years ago, using open-source designs that he adapted for different wearers.

Jerry Ennett
Jerry Ennett’s 3-D-printed devices won the World Vision Social Innovation Challenge.

He started a 3D printing company, Taurus 3D, with a summer business grant from his hometown of Stratford, Ont. While taking printing jobs that paid the bills, he explored altruistic uses of 3D technology, landing on the idea of prosthetic devices that can be easily and cheaply made.

He has enhanced his skills during co-op placements at 3D4MD, a 3D printable medical supplies company in Toronto, and biomedical engineering firm Starfish Medical in Victoria, B.C.

Ennett’s affordable prosthetic hand, which uses tension cables to activate the fingers, earned him an invitation to a rehabilitation centre in southern India this year to train workers in 3D tech. The Canadian charity Handi-Care International helped sponsor the effort.

Using his process, a prosthetic hand can be made from durable plastic or nylon for about $25 worth of materials, he said. The hand takes about a day to print and two hours to assemble.

“With 3D printing, once the design is done, it basically comes down to the cost of the plastic,” he said.

This fall, Ennett will visit Amar Seva Sangam, an organization in southern India. It provides home care, special education and rehabilitation services for hundreds of disabled children.

The centre sees as many as 20 amputees each month, but cannot provide patients with prosthetic devices. And the costs associated with obtaining those devices through conventional channels are prohibitive.

Ennett offers a sustainable solution to the problem, providing needed training for clinicians to make prosthetics in-house.

“I like using cutting-edge tech to help people,” Ennett said. “That’s one of the coolest combinations.”