FSU leading development of advanced prosthetics for veterans

Changchun “Chad” Zeng displays a sample of buckypaper.

Florida State University’s High-Performance Materials Institute (HPMI) is leading a major partnership to develop the next generation of prosthetic limbs for military-veteran amputee patients, thanks to a new contract with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The two-year, $4.4 million VA Innovation Initiative (VAi2) project is aimed at addressing the shortcomings of current prosthetic socket systems — the part where a patient’s limb connects to a prosthetic device — through the development, testing and delivery of “Socket Optimized for Comfort with Advanced Technology” (SOCAT) prototypes.

“Despite the advances made in prosthetics over the years, the socket continues to be a major source of discomfort for our amputees due to issues arising from poor fit, elevated temperatures and moisture accumulation,” said Changchun “Chad” Zeng, an assistant professor at the Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering and principal investigator on the project. “These adverse conditions effectively limit the basic activities of amputees and can greatly diminish their quality of life. This award gives us the opportunity to tackle those problems so our veteran amputees can live better, more fulfilling lives.”

The SOCAT project will deliver prototypes that will feature a unique combination of advanced composite materials and technology, some of which are cornerstone research and development initiatives of HPMI. These components, such as auxetic materials, which have the unique property of getting fatter when stretched, and carbon nanotube buckypaper, will be used to enable an intelligent prosthetic socket system that monitors the socket environment and self-adjusts “on the fly” to provide new, unmatched levels of comfort. In addition, vital information on the socket environment, such as pressure, temperature and moisture, will be recorded by the system and wirelessly transmitted to orthotic and prosthetic practitioners to facilitate better patient care.

“Military personnel give so much to defend our country that it’s imperative we support them after their time of service,” said Billy Francis, director of FSU’s Student Veterans Center. “This VAi2 project will combine our materials and engineering expertise with Florida State’s drive to be the nation’s most veteran-friendly university to bring relief and comfort to veteran amputees.”

The SOCAT research team being led by HPMI consists of Advanced Materials Professional Services, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates, Quantum Motion Medical and St. Petersburg College.

“This transformative project will leverage the latest advances in innovative materials and advanced manufacturing technologies to build the next-generation prosthetic socket system with significantly improved comfort,” said Ben Wang, executive director of the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute and a key researcher on the project. “Theseadvanced materials can improve the fit, pressure points, humidity and temperature of the prosthesis so that the patient can wear it longer and much more comfortably.”

The first phase of the two-year contract will focus on developing and testing the specific technologies for individual socket components. The second phase will involve the refinement of each system/material and the complete production of the prototypes.

The VAi2 launched in 2010 with the purpose of lowering the barrier of entry for innovative ways the private sector, nonprofit and academic communities can support the VA as it transforms into a 21st-century agency expanding access, improving quality, increasing veteran satisfaction and controlling cost. In 2012, VAi2 became the VA Center for Innovation.

To learn more, visit the project website. For more information about the group leading the project and its work to create the materials of tomorrow, visit HPMI.