Researchers create affordable prosthetic limbs out of recycled plastic water bottles
An expert at De Montfort University (DMU) has successfully manufactured the first-of-its-kind prosthetic limb socket made from recycled plastic bottles; a solution which could simultaneously help healthcare providers save millions of pounds and tackle plastic pollution.
Dr Karthikeyan Kandan, Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at DMU, found he could grind the plastic bottles down and use the granulated material to spin polyester yarns, which can then be heated up to form a solid yet lightweight material that can be moulded into prosthetic limbs.
The researchers say that this innovative method means producing a prosthetic socket costs £10 as opposed to the current industry average of around £5,000 each.
According to Dr Kandan, this new discovery could address the gap between high-performance prosthesis that cost thousands of pounds and affordable prostheses that lack quality and durability – as well as helping to solve the problem of plastic pollution.
“Upcycling of recycled plastics and offering affordable prosthesis are two major global issues that we need to tackle,” he said. “We wanted to develop a prosthetic limb that was cost effective yet comfortable and durable for amputee patients.”
Dr Kandan said that this latest development could be particularly helpful for amputees in developing countries looking for an affordable prosthesis.
The project was funded by the Global Challenges Research Funding (GCRF), which supports cutting edge research to address challenges faced by developing countries.
“There are so many people in developing countries who would really benefit from quality artificial limbs but unfortunately cannot afford them,” continued Dr Kandan. “The aim of this project was to identify cheaper materials that we could use to help these people, and that’s what we have done.”
Dr Kandan worked with the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahavata Samiti (BMVSS) in Jaipur, India – the world’s largest organisation for rehabilitating disabled people – as well as prosthetic experts from the Malaviya National Institute of Technology (also in Jaipur), the University of Salford, University of Southampton and University of Strathclyde.
Researchers, along with Dr Kandan, travelled to India with the prosthetic to trial it with two patients. One patient had his leg amputated above the knee and one 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 Kandan added.
Dr Kandan is now looking to conduct a larger-scale study with more people from different countries, so 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,” he said. “We want to further develop the design so that the prosthetic limb can be custom-made to meet each patient’s needs.”