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Fit-for-purpose, affordable body-powered prostheses

While upper limb loss and absence is relatively unusual in the UK, in other parts of the world, for example in areas of conflict, or where road safety is poor, it is believed to be much more common. The prosthetics available in these regions are often costly and are usually fitted and maintained by a relatively small specialist workforce in hospitals or clinics, which are places that many users find difficult to access. The consequences of living with limb loss but without a suitable prosthetic device can be severe, particularly for people in low resource settings. For example, they may no longer be able to work and certain modes of travel may no longer be possible.

This three-year project is designing upper-limb prostheses that are both low cost and fit for their purpose and circumstance.

Person with prosthetic arm

Further Information

Based at the University of Salford, this project is also working with researchers at UCL, Southampton University, Portsmouth University, the University of Jordon and Makere University in Uganda. We are undertaking the following activities:

1. Understanding user needs, cultural constraints, clinical and manufacturing resources. We are undertaking a series of scoping studies and focus groups in Jordan and Uganda. The work involves discussions with people with limb absence, clinicians and manufacturers, including those in the P&O sector and other engineering firms.

2. Developing specifications. Through a number of activities, including analysing the limitations with current body-powered devices, we are developing engineering specifications for the new designs. The work focuses not only on the end effector (‘hand’), but also the socket and other components.

3. Development and manufacture of novel designs. Informed by the work described above, the new designs will be developed and tested. The testing will begin in labs, and later in the project, we will field test the designs in Uganda and Jordan.

4. Advanced design features. This work is focusing on possible alternatives to the traditional, Bowden cable transmission used in most body-powered devices.

5. Digital tools for support and evaluation. We have surprisingly little data on how prostheses are used, or perhaps not used, in the real world. Further, we know from our early results that some people living with limb absence report feelings of isolation. In this work we are investigating how digital tools might be used to address both of these issues.

6. Impact. We aim to have a lasting positive impact in Uganda and Jordan. We are working with our partners to support improved provision (including local making and manufacture, and better clinical support) which will enable uptake of the new body-powered prosthesis.

This project is led by Professor Laurence Kenney, (University of Salford), with Dr Cathy Holloway (Global Disability Innovation Hub), Professor Mark Miodownik (Institute of Making) and Dr Dafne Morgado Ramirez (UCLIC) as research investigators from UCL. It is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Global Challenges Research Fund.