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8/27/2019 | 1 MINUTE READ

Researchers Produce Prosthetic Limbs from Recycled Plastic Bottles

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Artificial limbs made out of plastic water bottles could save money and help tackle pollution at the same time.

Researchers at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) manufactured a prosthetic limb socket made from recycled plastic bottles, according to a news report from the university. K Kandan, senior lecturer in mechanical engineering at DMU, 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, who is also associate director of the Institute of Engineering Sciences at DMU, said this breakthrough could address the gap between costly high-performance prostheses and affordable prostheses that lack quality and durability—as well as helping to 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.”

“Our design has significant potential to promote the circular economy for plastic by using recycled plastic yarns to manufacture affordable prosthetic limbs—especially for amputees in developing countries.”

The project was funded by the Global Challenges Research Funding (GCRF), which supports research to address challenges faced by developing countries. It was also backed by the Academy of Medical Sciences; the independent UK body that represents the diversity of medical science.

Kandan worked with the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahavata Samiti (BMVSS) in Jaipur, India—the world’s largest organization for rehabilitating disabled people—as well as prosthetic experts from the Malaviya National Institute of Technology (also in Jaipur), the University of Salford, University of Southampton and University of Strathclyde.

They 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, Kandan said. 

“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 is now looking to conduct a larger-scale study with more people from different countries, so that his design can be adapted to meet patients’ individual circumstances.