The U.S. Department of Defense awarded two researchers at The University of Texas at Arlington a $744,300 grant from its Peer Reviewed Orthopedic Research Program to support the development of an adaptive interface that is used between a patient’s prosthesis and limb in order to improve suitability and comfort of the prosthetic limb. The device, which is expected to start clinical applications within the next five years, may help soldiers injured in service.
The adaptive interface, which will be similar to an inflatable bubble wrap embedded with sensors, is being developed by Haiying Huang, a professor in the Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering Department, in collaboration with the principal research scientist at UT Arlington’s Research Institute, Muthu Wijesundara. The scientists will use four types of sensors, which will be responsible for monitoring the fitting of the prosthesis, as well as measure the vertical movement of the limb compared to the socket wall, the pressure on the member, eventual circumference changes in the residual limb throughout the day, and amount of water present in the tissue.
“Eventually, we want to build the socket that can adjust automatically to the patient,” explained Huang, who is an expert in sensor technology. “In order to do that, we need the sensors to tell us when and how to adjust the socket. We plan to design a warning system first, then the sensor data will teach us how to adjust the interface automatically.”
The main purpose of the project is to reduce symptoms of discomfort, blistering, or ulcers between prosthesis and the residual limb that are often experienced by prosthetic patients. It is unavoidable that the volume of the limb suffers alterations throughout the day, and these changes influence the way in which the limb and prosthetic socket fit together. What some patients do is manually adjust the fitting of the prosthesis in the limbs, using for instance socks or other types of padding, but this new research and development project may reduce the problem.
“We want everything to adjust depending on whether the person is walking, running or simply sitting down,” stated Wijesundara, who is a specialist in medical devices for applications in tissue regeneration, wound healing, and prosthetic devices/interfaces. He went on to explain that he and Huang’s work has been focused on improving comfort and fit, as well as improving patients’ quality of life, despite the limb residual conditions. “This interface technology can be applied to various prosthetic devices and exoskeleton applications,” he added.
“Soldiers who have been injured and have to use prosthetics every day of their lives want the most comfortable, technologically sound devices,” Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the College of Engineering, said about the project, which he believes may find application with soldiers injured in active duty. “This research works to provide the best possible prosthetic to those servicemen and servicewomen.”
When completed, the project may be able to help thousands of patients, who needed amputations, to improve their quality of life and conduct a more active life. Only counting military patients, there are more than 1,500 American soldiers who underwent major limb amputations, many of them under 35 years old, according to the Congressional Research Service. The scientists estimate that it could initiate clinical applications within three to five years.