A mechanical engineer at De Montfort University (DMU), Leicester, England, has successfully manufactured the first-of-its-kind prosthetic limb socket made from recycled plastic bottles. The cost of producing a prosthetic socket this way is about $12.

Photograph courtesy of De Montfort University, Leicester.

Karthikeyan Kandan, PhD, associate director of the university’s Institute of Engineering Sciences and a senior lecturer, 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 molded into prosthetic limbs.

Kandan said the breakthrough could address the gap between high-performance and affordable prostheses, and help solve the problem of plastic pollution.

“Upcycling of recycled plastics and offering affordable prostheses 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.”

The project was funded by the Global Challenges Research Funding, 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 the United Kingdom that represents the diversity of medical science.

“There are so many people in developing countries who would really benefit from quality artificial limbs but unfortunately cannot afford them,” said 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.”

Kandan worked with the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahavata Samiti (BMVSS) in Jaipur, India, the world’s largest organization for rehabilitating disabled people, and prosthetic experts in Jaipur and the Universities of Salford, Southampton, and Strathclyde in England.

“We manufactured the socket at DMU and then traveled 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,” said Kandan. “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.”

Kandan will conduct a larger-scale international study so that the design can be adapted to meet patients’ individual circumstances.

This story was adapted from materials provided by De Montfort University .