Researchers at the Virginia Tech College of Engineering have received a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study residual limb volume loss and develop a prosthetic socket to accommodate volume changes.

Michael Philen, PhD, an associate professor in the college’s Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, and Michael Madigan, PhD, a professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, will combine their expertise in smart materials and biomechanics to develop new technology that allows adjustments to prosthetic sockets during volume fluctuations. The research team is collaborating with Brian Kaluf, CP, FAAOP, clinical outcome and research director at Ability Prosthetics and Orthotics, Exton, Pennsylvania.

“Mike Madigan and I saw this as a great opportunity to take technology I’ve been working with and combine it with his work in biomechanics,” said Philen. “This work could be a viable solution for those affected by volume loss in the limb and offer a better overall quality of life.”

Over the course of the three-year grant, the research team will be developing new techniques to accurately measure the volume change and limb deformation throughout the day, as well as the changes in the fit of the prosthetic socket itself. The researchers will track the deformation of the residual limb during daily activities using digital image correlation and a clear diagnostic socket.

Philen’s work in the Aerospace Structures and Materials Laboratory includes a technology known as fluidic flexible matrix composites. These composites have been demonstrated in aerospace structures, morphing structures, robotics, and wave energy conversion systems. When integrated into a prosthesis, the researchers believe the flexible matrix composites can accommodate limb volume loss.

Digital image correlation is an established technique for acquiring 3D strains and displacements on the surface of materials, and applying it to socket fit will provide new insights into the relationship between strain and comfort, according to the university. Additionally, the researchers are developing a high-precision laser scanning system that will be able to measure the shape and volume of the limb before and after completing the physical activities.

Once the team has a better understanding of residual limb deformation during active use, they will work to develop a smart prosthetic socket that employs fluidic flexible matrix composite technology. Wafers made of fluidic flexible matrix composite integrated into the smart socket can achieve an increase in volume when pressurized, exhibit changes in stiffness, and can be fabricated into a variety of shapes and configurations that can be tailored specifically for the user.

Editor’s Note: This story was adapted from materials provided by Virginia Tech.