The thing

An orthosis that changes lives

3 min
Text Lise Wouters

Prosthetics are vital to those who need them, but sometimes subject to taboo. Researchers at the Faculty of Design Sciences are proactively looking for ways of making prosthetics and orthoses as user-friendly and acceptable as possible. Mano Balliu graduated in product development, with his graduation project consisting of a unique orthosis for children with spastic muscles. The medical aid protects the muscles and bones, but gives children much more freedom than traditional, static orthoses. Balliu even won an international prize with his design. In contrast with this high-tech orthosis, there’s the project of student Mattis Hoenderboom: a low-budget ankle and foot orthosis for children in Madagascar. 



Deformed muscles and bones 


Balliu’s invention aids children with cerebral palsy, a group of conditions that generally come with poor coordination and speech and learning problems. ‘Oftentimes, patients also have spastic muscles,’ says Kristof Vaes, lecturer in the programme. ‘Those cramped limbs lead to other problems, such as bone deformations and shorter muscles, tendons, ligaments and joint capsules.’ 


Orthoses that help prevent such conditions have existed for a long time. The aids work as a kind of harness or brace, for instance to keep an arm in the right shape. But static orthoses lock a child’s arm completely in place, which causes tension and pain. Dynamic, moveable orthoses, on the other hand, are often too heavy or limit themselves to the wrist. Which means children’s fingers are generally still fixed in place. 

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In the orthopaedic sector the solutions of a product developer truly change lives.

Mano Balliu

Mano’s ManiFlex 


Together with Orthobroker, a company that makes custom orthoses, Balliu investigated the option of using 3D printing to make orthoses out of flexible materials. This resulted in ManiFlex, a light yet dynamic orthosis that makes it possible to move all joints. What’s more, each individual joint can be given a specific resistance, enabling the children to carry out more functional tasks. Even the fingers can be moved separately – truly revolutionary. Attention was also paid to the visual appearance and acceptance of the orthosis. The 3D software is not only used to personalise the orthosis according to the patient’s condition, but also according to their taste. 


Balliu received the James Dyson Award in honour of his invention. This is an international prize for new talent in design and technology. A great reward for a student who dared to think differently. ‘Thanks to my training as a product developer, I can delve into all kinds of fields,’ says Balliu. ‘This gave me the chance to do something in the orthopaedic sector, where solutions truly change lives.’ 

Our product developers like to get their hands dirty 


Alumnus Witse Beyers is also making an impact. At UAntwerp she had developed a toolbox for people with dementia who are restless at night. Out of all the innovative tools in this box, the most evocative one is perhaps the ‘warm hand’. Using heat and pressure, it mimics a holding-hands effect, creating a sense of coziness for people living in residential care centres. 

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Any problem, human or technical, can be solved if you have the right mindset.

Mattis Hoenderboom


TOTO in Madagascar 


The ManiFlex is a revolutionary invention, but not everyone with a condition has access to high-tech aids. To provide a low-budget alternative, master student Mattis Hoenderboom developed an ankle and foot orthosis for children with cerebral palsy in Madagascar. This orthosis is entirely made from local materials, preventing high costs resulting from the use of international raw materials. The recovery of parts and the extension of the user period also contribute to low product cost. The final design uses recycled aluminium moulding, rubber parts made from discarded car tyres and bamboo. Thanks to this, Mattis’s orthosis could be offered at a price of only five euros. This way, children from the poor and remote regions of Madagascar can also receive help. Any problem, human or technical, can be solved if you have the right mindset,’ says Hoenderboom. The TOTO won him the Pars Pro Toto Juvenile Award 

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