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#TechThursdays - Prosthetic limbs from plastic water bottles offer low-cost options for amputees

Dr K Kandan, an engineer from De Montfort University at Leicester University, has created prosthetic limbs from plastic water bottles, an innovation that offers not just affordable options for amputees but is environmental friendly too.

Every year in India, over 80,000 people lose their limbs and over 85% are living without a solution. Good quality prostheses come at a high cost and in a country like India, they are out of most people's budget range. Now, that could well change thanks to Dr K Kandan.

An engineer at De Montfort University has developed prosthetic limbs from recycled plastic water bottles. He used polyester yarns spun from the ground plastic bottles to make the prosthesis and hopes the breakthrough will address the gap between high-grade prosthesis that are highly expensive and cheaper ones that are not as durable. It will also help solve the problem of plastic pollution. Speaking to the media, Dr Kandan said, "Upcycling of recycled plastics and offering affordable prosthesis are two major global issues that we need to tackle. We wanted to develop a prosthetic limb that was cost effective yet comfortable and durable for amputee patients." The plastic bottles can be heated up to form a solid and lightweight material which can be then moulded into prosthetic limbs. Dr Kandan worked with the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahavata Samiti (BMVSS) in Jaipur, which is the world's largest organisation for rehabilitating disabled people as well as prosthetic experts from the Malaviya National Institute of Technology, Jaipur, the University of Salford, University of Southampton and University of Strathclyde.

We manufactured the socket at DMU and then travelled to India to trial it with two patients - one who had his leg amputated above the knee, and one who had his leg amputated below the knee. Both patients were really impressed - they said the prosthetic was lightweight and easy to walk with, and that it allowed air to flow to the rest of their leg, which is ideal for the hot climate in India. - Dr K Kandan, Associate Director, Institute of Engineering Sciences, De Montfort University Leicester

Dr Kandan is now planning to conduct a larger study with people from different countries. This way he hopes that his design can be adapted to meet patients' individual circumstances "People have their limbs amputated for a number of reasons - from diabetes and infection to accidents and injuries. We want to further develop the design so that the prosthetic limb can be custom-made to meet each patient's needs".

The project was funded by the Global Challenges Research Funding (GCRF), which supports cutting edge research to address challenges faced by developing countries. It was also backed by the Academy of Medical Sciences, an independent body in United Kingdom.

Over 100 million people worldwide have had a limb amputated. Diabetes and traffic accidents are two of the biggest causes of lower-limb amputation. Given that around one million plastic water bottles are bought every minute and only 7% are recycled, Dr Kandan's innovation has significant implications for the environment too.

"One of the biggest problems is that the plastic bottles cannot be recycled and re-used for the same purpose, so it's up to us to find new uses for them", says Dr Kandan. "Our design has significant potential to promote the circular economy for plastic by using recycled plastic yarns to manufacture affordable prosthetic limbs - especially for amputees in developing countries."

Read More: DeMontfort University Leicester

ALSO READ: #InclusionChamps - Prashant Gade wins Universal Design Award 2019 for Inali Arm

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