Florida State University Wins VA Contract to Develop Advanced Prosthetics

The next generation of advanced prosthetic limbs - ones that are more comfortable for consumers, can be worn for longer periods, can make their own adjustments according to environmental challenges and can provide healthcare providers with all-important real-world feedback - may soon be brought to you by the High-Performance Materials Institute (HPMI) at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

HPMI recently won a contract with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the school announced, to develop such advanced prosthetics for amputees who have served in the armed forces.

The two-year project is worth $4.4 million and is a VA Innovation Initiative (VAi2) program. In a news announcement, HPMI said its work focuses on "addressing the shortcomings of current prosthetic socket systems - the part where a patient's limb connects to a prosthetic device."

Improving the Interface

Florida State University is developing and testing a prototype system called "Socket Optimized for Comfort with Advanced Technology" (SOCAT).

While currently available prosthetic limbs have enabled consumers to achieve amazing feats of mobility and independence, the interface between the person and the prosthetic technology continues to be a formidable challenge, says Changchun "Chad" Zeng, the principal investigator on the SOCAT project. Zeng is also an assistant professor at Florida A&M University/Florida State University College of Engineering.

"Despite the advances made in prosthetics over the years," Zeng explains, "the socket continues to be a major source of discomfort for our amputees due to issues arising from poor fit, elevated temperatures and moisture accumulation. These adverse conditions effectively limit the basic activities of amputees and can greatly diminish their quality of life.

"This award gives us the opportunity to tackle those problems so our veteran amputees can live better, more fulfilling lives."

The SOCAT project will develop and deliver prototype systems "that will feature a unique combination of advanced composite materials and technology, some of which are cornerstone research and development initiatives of HPMI," Florida State said.

For instance, future components may use materials that get "fatter" when they're stretched, and HPMI says the use of carbon nanotube buckypaper can enable a prosthetic socket system to monitor the socket's environment and self adjust to make the prosthetic's user to feel more comfortable.

Feedback for Healthcare Providers

Future systems might also be designed to record information such as pressure, temperature and moisture while the prosthetic is being worn and used, and to transmit that data to healthcare providers.

The healthcare professionals could then use that data to make adjustments so prosthetics are more comfortable to wear, which could in turn enable consumers to wear the prosthetics for longer periods of time.

The HPMI-led SOCAT team is also composed of researchers from a number of other organizations, including Advanced Materials Professional Services, Georgia Institute of Technology, Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates, Quantum Motion Medical and St. Petersburg College.

Florida State says the first phase of the two-year project will consist of developing and testing various technologies for individual socket components. The second phase will focus on refining the systems and materials used, as well as completing prototype production.

To track the progress of this project at the High-Performance Materials Institute, visit hpmi.net.

VAi2 launched in 2010 to give academic, non-profit and private-sector organizations greater and more innovative opportunities to work with Veterans Affairs and its goals of expanding access, improving the quality of its services and increasing veterans' overall satisfaction. For more information, visit va.gov/vai2/.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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