Diabetes is one of the most prominent chronic conditions in the world. In the U.S. alone, diabetes affects about 10% of the population. At a broad level, diabetes impacts the body’s ability to break down and use sugar. However, this build up of sugar can have a range of other health effects and complications. Among these is the increased risk of, or need for, amputation. Diabetes can affect blood vessels and arteries. This impacts blood flow to various areas of the body and increases the likelihood of amputation being needed to remove feet or legs that get infected.
To make matters worse, diabetic amputees often experience neuropathy, or a lack of feeling due to damaged nerves. This lack of feeling can make it challenging for an amputee to detect additional damage when wearing a prosthetic. A research team from Canada has developed a new type of prosthetic that could help minimize the damage caused by wearing a prosthetics. Their new prosthetic is described in a recent article published in Biomicrofluidics.
According to the research team, existing prosthetics, while helpful, aren’t well designed to help amputees minimize additional damage to their limbs after amputation. A traditional prosthetic uses layers of fabric and silicone that can be added or removed to ensure an optimal fit. However, the wearer of the prosthetic must change these layers. A lack of sensation near an amputation can make this challenging. As a result, many amputees experience additional damage and discomfort.
The research team’s new prosthetic uses a layer of soft fluidic actuators that can adjust to an individual residual limb by inflating. In essence, soft fluidics allow the prosthetic to respond more precisely to the needs of an amputee.
An initial design of the device used actuators that made the overall device too heavy. Their attempts to miniaturize the device resulted in a microfluidic chip that used air pumps to enable inflation of the new soft fluidics in the prosthetic. Initial tests found that the device could produce the amount of pressure needed to support different residual limb specifications.