Making a difference: CSU students travel to Ecuador to engineer prosthetics

Students in engineering and science majors often hear that their work can change the world.

For a group of Colorado State University students on a summer study abroad course in Ecuador, they put the extraordinary amount of knowledge they had learned in their courses to the test by helping create prosthetic devices.

Designing and engineering prosthetic limbs, creating molds and casts, and helping with physical therapy for amputees was all in a day’s work. But far more powerful lessons faced the students in Ecuador — the astounding perseverance of those who have lost so much and how technology could help patients lead an ordinary life.

Creating prosthetic devices in a developing country

The senior design project evolved from a study abroad course in the summer of 2018, originally developed by biomedical engineering undergraduate advisor Deb Misuraca and research scientist Ellen Brennan-Pierce. Collaborating with the Range of Motion Project (ROMP), Misuraca, Brennan-Pierce, and 24 students worked at a clinic in Quito, Ecuador, creating prosthetic devices and interacting with patients.

Several students from the 2018 program took their experience from Ecuador and began a biomedical engineering senior design project over the 2018-2019 academic year. Four of the members of the project returned to Ecuador this summer, along with a second study abroad cohort, to test their prototype and ideas with ROMP.

Students interviewed amputees and took measurements of the patient’s limbs. They then created molds of the limb, and began work on casting. During each step of the process, students manually sculpted, sanded, and created the prosthetic socket, all the way through manufacturing and adjusting the final plastic versions. At the end of the process, they worked with patients to make sure the prosthetic limb was comfortable and fit correctly.

“It was thrilling, I learned so much more from participating than I think we would have from simply observing,” Foss said. “I was shocked by the artisanal nature of the prosthetic creation process — it really is like sculpting.”

Full story:

Story written by Russell Dickerson