Fast Tracking Prosthetic Feet

(Photograph by Jian Ming Chan)

Associate Professor Peter Lee, from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and a team of final year biomedical engineering students have been developing prosthetic feet that are more durable and less susceptible to breaking.

A combination of land mines in recent war-afflicted regions, industrial and environmental accidents, terrorist attacks and poor quality public health, in developing nations has resulted in a growing need for low-cost artificial limbs. Associate Professor Lee and his students have been researching different kinds of low-cost artificial limbs, culminating in an annual field trip to areas of need such as Cambodia and Vietnam.

One of the great benefits of working in the field is the way the findings inform future research. For example, in 2009, students who had designed a low-cost prosthetic knee reported that a larger problem in Cambodia were structural faults in prosthetic foot design. As a result, in 2010, students focused on designing a more durable prosthetic foot. In the field, these students found the prosthetic foot design issues were related to the weight and the ability of the polypropylene keel to adhere to the surrounding rubber. This issue can now be studied in the mechanical engineering lab, and improvements to the design can then be taken out on the next field trip in 2011.

For more details read “Fast Tracking Prosthetic Feet”, by Gabrielle Murphy, the Voice, Vol 7, No 2, 2011 and read the transcript, “Low Cost Prosthetic Feet for Cambodia”, Innovations, ABC Radio Australia, 2 April 2011.