NSF-Sponsored IRES Project Investigates Development of Prosthetic Devices in Developing Countries

Dr. Tammy Haut Donahue (second from right) with nurses from the hospital.

In developing countries, the occurrence of missing limbs due to amputations from infection, farming accidents, or landmine incidents is significantly higher than in the U.S., particularly in India, where one in 56 individuals is an amputee, compared to one in 22,000 in the U.S. Amputee sufferers in remote areas of India don’t have the access or the financial means to obtain prosthetic devices engineered in the western world. Dr. P.K. Sethi of the Rehabilitation & Jaipur Limb Training Centre in Jaipur, India, recognized the severe need for a solution and developed the highly successful Jaipur Foot in the 1970s.

The International Research Experience for Students Program (IRES) at the National Science Foundation is sponsoring a three-year project to significantly advance the technology and production techniques of the Jaipur Foot, and potentially transform the way prosthetic devices are designed in the developing world. Various design and production constraints in a country such as India will be one of the main challenges.

Cross-section of the Jaipur Foot

The U.S.-India Collaborative Research in Mechanical, Biomedical, and Materials Science Engineering for Undergraduates is a joint research project between Ohio State and Colorado State universities, in conjunction with Malaviya National Institute of Technology and the Santokba Durlabhji Memorial Hospital, in Jaipur, India.

Mechanical engineering professor, Dr. Tammy Haut Donahue, IRES researcher, has extended internship positions to two all-star mechanical engineering students to take part in this revolutionary project. Undergrads Ian Huber and Jacob Wolynski will join with two other undergraduates from Ohio State, and the four will spend 12 weeks in India. Two CSU graduate students, Benjamin Wheatley, ME, and Kristine Fischenich, SBME, are also involved with advising the undergraduates and traveling with the students to India.

The project immerses the undergraduates in a research project that expands their global experience and enables them to enrich their undergraduate training. Learning to
live and work in a drastically different culture is one of the objectives of the program. The students will work with local orthopedic surgeons on the research and will interact
with many Jaipur Foot patients. “This is an amazing opportunity for the students to explore research opportunities and life in another culture. Not many undergraduates get this opportunity,” said Dr. Haut Donahue.

Students ride elephants to an Indian palace in Jaipur.

The Jaipur Foot offers a variety of benefits to its patients. It’s a lowcost device that has a lifelike appearance that, most importantly, can be worn barefoot, allowing patients to enter a temple, and, with its durable rubber sole, enabling them to walk on uneven surfaces and roads. It can also be worn with sandals, which is the most common type of shoe in India.

Today, the Jaipur Foot is handcrafted by highly experienced workers who craft two or three feet a day. This production process has inhibited growth and expansion, limiting its potential to ease suffering in other developing countries. A detailed understanding of the components used to make the foot is key, as it will enable opportunities for mass production, which is one of the areas where the NSF fund will make its mark.