Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are major players in a team that will develop an advanced prosthetic socket system that could offer better comfort, functionality and mobility for military-veteran amputees.
Georgia Tech is part of a $4.4 million contract awarded to Florida State University by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Ben Wang and Chuck Zhang, professors in the Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, will lead the work that Georgia Tech will be conducting on the project.
The VA Innovation Initiative (VAi2) project is aimed at addressing the shortcomings of current prosthetic socket systems — the part where a patient’s limb connects to a prosthetic device — through the development, testing and delivery of “Socket Optimized for Comfort with Advanced Technology” (SOCAT) prototypes.
“This transformative project will leverage the latest advances in innovative materials and advanced manufacturing technologies to build the next-generation prosthetic socket system with significantly improved comfort,” said Wang, who is also the executive director of the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute.
The project will integrate several technologies to create a more holistic above-knee socket system that could be worn longer and more comfortably.
In close collaboration with researchers at the High-Performance Materials Institute at FSU, Georgia Tech’s team will conduct major research tasks toward the success of this project. This includes creating the overall socket system design, evaluating advanced manufacturing technologies and developing innovative adaptive materials to better manage changes in limb volume and pressure while providing active cooling and temperature control.
“These improved wearability functions and features will be achieved and enhanced by integrating advanced materials, such as composites and nanomaterials, and by implementing new manufacturing technologies, including additive manufacturing and printed electronics,” Georgia Tech’s Zhang said.
More than 1.8 million amputees are living in the U.S., and that number is expected to triple by 2050, according to a recent report by the National Limb Loss Information Center.
A prosthetic socket joins the residual limb to the prosthesis. Each socket is custom-made for the patient according to the shape and condition of the residual limb and mobility grade. While new and emerging technologies have improved amputees’ quality of life, many continue to suffer from discomfort and skin ailments as a result of poor fit, elevated temperatures and moisture accumulation within the socket.
Along with materials researchers and engineers from Georgia Tech and FSU, the multidisciplinary project team includes orthotic and prosthetic practitioners and engineers from Advanced Materials Professional Services, Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates, Quantum Motion Medical and St. Petersburg College.
“Despite the advances made in prosthetics over the years, 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,” said Changchun (Chad) Zeng, a Florida A&M University-FSU College of Engineering assistant professor and principal investigator on the project. “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 first phase of the two-year contract will focus on developing and testing the specific technologies for individual socket components.The second phase will involve the refinement of each system and material, as well as the complete production of the prototypes.
Launched in 2010, VAi2 leverages cutting-edge progress in the private sector and academic communities with the federal workforce to improve access to healthcare and services, control costs and increase quality. In 2012, VAi2 became known as the Veteran Affairs Center for Innovation (VACI).
“Ideas are the heart of innovation, and VACI provides the dynamic ecosystem that lowers the barrier of entry for innovation at VA,” VACI Director Jonah Czerwinski said. “The SOCAT project represents the kind of innovation in service to veterans and the broader population that we are after.”