April 28, 2017

BYU Students Create Prosthetic Socket to Aid War Victims

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Jarem Frye, founder of K12 Prosthetics, Park City, Utah, helped the students by testing their prototype. Photograph courtesy of Nate Edwards and BYU.

A team of Brigham Young University (BYU) engineering students have teamed with the nonprofit Engage Now Africa (ENA) to create a socket for people with transfemoral amputations that will interface with prostheses used by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Their aim is to help victims of the 1991-2002 civil warin Sierra Leone. Unlike medical amputations, the amputations inflicted by rebels resulted in difficult-to-fit residual limbs.

“In addition to the difficulty of being an amputee, the poverty in Sierra Leone limits their ability to purchase adequate sockets,” said student Zac Lichtenberg. “What we’ve created will open the door to easier manufacturing with affordable materials.”

The students designed their socket with materials and equipment that are readily available in Sierra Leone. They used a three-strut design; the struts are made of polypropylene and are custom-molded to the patient’s residual limb. The socket is secured by straps that will be attached to the side of the socket. The result is a customizable, adjustable socket that can be produced for about $40. The project was in conjunction with the BYU Mechanical Engineering Capstone program, an annual effort in which senior engineering students take on sponsored projects.

ENA has been working in Sierra Leone for ten years and focuses on efforts to strengthen families and individuals with the goal of ending poverty in Africa.

“Very few of the 27,000 amputees have prosthetics, and if they do have them, they don’t usually work,” said Lynette Gay, chairman of the board and president of ENA. “The students found the most cost-effective, most durable, and best-fitting outcome. There is no reason why this couldn’t be extremely successful.”

While Lichtenberg said the socket still needs refining, an upcoming step is for students to travel to Sierra Leone to work with physicians there to further develop the devices. Gay said the students and her organization are committed to see the project through and believes the sockets will be in use within a year.

Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by Todd Hollingshead and BYU.

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