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Low cost foot orthosis among the promising innovations on display at IIT-Bombay's annual device expo

It's called KAFO, which stands for Knee Ankle Foot Orthosis, popularly known as callipers, and aims to help people with weak legs walk with ease. KAFO made its presence known to the world at the 5th Annual Symposium and Medical Device Expo held at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay this weekend. The expo was organized by the Biomedical Engineering & Technology (incubation) Centre (BETiC).

The innovator behind KAFO, Aneesh Karma has an inspiring story of what led him to work on this device. Thirty-six-year-old Karma, who is from Uttar Pradesh, was born to illiterate parents and comes from a humble background.

I was afflicted by polio in my childhood and was unable to finish my education due to our poor financial condition. But I did not want to bow down to my fate and felt that any kind of disability should not become an obstacle to success. It was my dream to invent better callipers for myself and others like me. - Aneesh Karma, Innovator, KAFO

The callipers Karma has developed will be useful for people affected by polio, paralysis and accidents. There are some organisations that provide these free of cost to poor patients, but they are often uncomfortable. There are better devices available, but they are imported and unaffordable for most people.

Karma had to knock on many doors before he found a hearing at BETiC, which is located inside the IIT Bombay campus. Here, he found many innovators like him working under the guidance of top doctors and mentors to bring innovative ideas to life. Many of them even start their own company in the Society for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (SINE), IIT-B's technology business incubator to take the products to market.

Like KAFO, there were 20 low cost medical devices on display, including a hybrid plaster splint that immobilizes fractured bones to prevent further damage during transport.

"India is a land of many challenges as well as opportunities, especially in affordable healthcare. A range of medical devices and equipment are required for diagnosis and treatment of various diseases. However, even 72 years after independence, 78% of these products are imported, regrets Professor B Ravi, Founder, BETiC.

BETiC is trying to change that by building an ecosystem that brings together doctors, researchers, engineers and entrepreneurs for indigenous medical device innovation to bridge this gap. "We have a few success stories, but much remains to be done, adds Dr Ravi.

Renowned nuclear scientist Dr Anil Kakodkar, among the prominent figures from the medical and research fraternity present at the event, calls BETiC one of the best examples of innovation eco-system thriving in Indian conditions. "It's unique culture of inter-disciplinary multi-institution collaboration is highly effective in creating medical device success stories. Such eco-systems should be scaled up and replicated all over the country, says Dr Kakodkar.

BETiC works closely with 10 partner institutes from across Maharashtra and has a team of over 100 researchers working closely with doctors to develop novel and affordable medical devices. With innovators like Karma bringing their life stories and skills to the table, the future in the assistive technology space looks promising.

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