Prosthetics for the Developing World

Many amputees in developing countries face a scarcity of useable prosthetic limbs. For individuals in rural areas who cannot reach urban medical centers, the challenges are particularly acute since mobile fitment camps are hindered by limited time, resources, and funds.

One organization that has led the effort to improve the quality of life for amputees is the Jaipur Foot Organization (JFO). The JFO offers free prosthetic limbs to rural and urban underserved populations. Teaming up with the Center for International Rehabilitation, the two organizations have developed a more efficient prosthetic fitting process. This new method, however, requires an air-compressor, resulting in the high cost of maintaining and operating the electric generator necessary to power the process.

MIT students Stephen Samouhos, (Course 2, G), Aron Zingman, (Alum), Maria Luckyanova, (Course 2, Year 4), Irina Azu, (Course 2, Year 4), Goutam Reddy, (Alum) and Tess Veuthey, (Course 2, Year 4), began work on a more sustainable solution. Calling themselves Vac-Cast Prosthetics, the students entered the '06 - '07 IDEAS Competition, and were awarded the $7,500 IDEAS International Technology Award for their prototypical sand-casting prosthetic fitting technique. The human powered vacuum pump requires no electricity, costs under $200 and is easily assembled from readily available materials.

In August 2007, team members Tess, Maria, and Goutam traveled to Delhi and Jaipur in India to meet with both practicing orthotists/prosthetists and JFO researchers. Through talking with patients, doctors and researchers they learned more about the constraints rural fitment camps operate under, as well as the shortcomings of their own Vac-Cast system and other devices employed by the JFO.

Inspired by their trip, the team hopes to improve upon the Vac-Cast system as well as the mobility devices used by the JFO. The team cites the rigid devices employed by above the knee amputees, which do not allow for a normal gait, as an example of current problems and future projects.

In the spring of 2008, the team will be offering a class, Engineering Rehabilitation Technologies (SP.714), run through the Edgerton Center. "In India, we found that it was impossible for people working for the JFO to do research into new, improved technologies because they were so busy with patient care. We decided to start this class so MIT students, removed from the burden of giving 15 people a day a new leg, could use resources unavailable in the developing world to help patients by improving the technology used by the JFO," says team member, Maria Luckyanova.

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