More than 100 million people around the world are estimated to have had a limb amputated, meaning that they require a prosthetic. This number is gradually increasing: traffic accidents, infections and diabetes are on the up.
Yet for many amputees — particularly those in developing countries — the cost of access to a safe, durable and comfortable prosthetic is prohibitively high. According to De Montfort University, based in Leicester in the UK, the industry average is £5,000.
This was a concern for Dr Karthikeyan Kandan, a senior lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at the university.
Separately, he was also taken aback by the “really scary statistics” about how much plastic is polluting our oceans and the planet — like the fact that only 7% of the one million plastic water bottles bought every minute are recycled.
So as all inspired researchers do, he found a way of tackling the two issues in one go.
Working alongside the world’s largest organisation for rehabilitating disabled people in India, Dr Kandan has created a method for turning plastic water bottles into cheap and durable prosthetic limbs. His technique involves creating polyester yarns from ground-up plastic bottles which are then heated and moulded to create a “solid yet lightweight” prosthetic limb that costs just £10 to produce.
Our #DMUexpert Dr Kandan could simultaneously save millions for healthcare providers and waste plastic from being dumped into our environment. His innovative process recycles plastic bottles to make prosthetic limb sockets ♻️ Read more? https://t.co/Ch3T43BSHo ?#ProudToBeMore pic.twitter.com/npmPbmUOZA
— De Montfort Uni DMU (@dmuleicester) August 19, 2019
“Upcycling of recycled plastics and offering affordable prosthesis are two major global issues that we need to tackle,” Dr Kandan said in a press release. “We wanted to develop a prosthetic limb that was cost-effective yet comfortable and durable for amputee patients.”
Dr Kandan also worked with prosthetic experts at academic institutes in Jaipur, Salford, Southampton and Strathclyde.
The socket was trialled with two patients in India — one who had the leg amputated above the knee, and one below the knee. Both said the design was “easy to walk with” and allowed air to flow to the rest of the leg, which was key for India’s hot climate.
Kandan’s focus is on providing an ethical solution for people across the world in places that may otherwise be unable to afford a prosthetic. “The aim of this project was to identify cheaper materials that we could use to help these people, and that’s what we’ve done,” he said.
Kandan added: “Our work will help restore mobility to the millions of amputees in LMICs [low- and middle-income countries] and will undoubtedly have a major positive impact on public health and welfare.”