$50 Artificial Knee Wins Global Health Innovation Award

When people in a war-torn developing country lose their legs above the knee due to a landmine blast injury, many cannot afford an artificial limb that costs $100. Even if they can afford one, most of the artificial knees available use older technology developed in the 1950s and only provide minimal functionality. In North America, artificial knees can cost from $500 for low-tech devices up to more than $20,000 for elaborate limbs that use electronics and microprocessors.

low cost artificial knee

Dr. Jan Andrysek’s Low Cost Knee

But innovation doesn’t have to be expensive when bold thinking and intelligent design are used to solve a global health issue.  Rehabilitation engineer and scientist Jan Andrysek, PhD, PEng, at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto has developed a highly functional artificial limb that costs under $50, called the LC Knee, the Low-Cost Prosthetic Knee. Dr. Andrysek is Assistant Professor for the Institute of Biomaterial and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Andrysek says, “What we wanted to do was go back to the simpler tech and see if we could make those more functional. Through biomechanics, we were able to develop a mechanism that provides a high-level function, a mechanism that will provide that stability when you need it, but not impede the natural flexion of the knee.” Dr. Andrysek recently won a $100,0000 grant to test and develop the LC Knee, one of 15 awards by Grand Challenges Canada given to Canadian researchers working on bold innovations that have the potential to have a big impact on improving the health of those in other countries.

The LC Knee is different because it locks for the weight-bearing phase of motion and automatically unlocks for the swing-phase, more closely mimicking normal motion. Existing older-tech artificial knees use a simple hinge, which must be manually locked but then cannot bend during walking.

Another remarkable difference is that the LC Knee is completely waterproof. Made from lightweight thermoplastic material and special bearings, it won’t corrode if it gets wet. Some test participants have tried swimming with the LC Knee in salt-water pools and the ocean and no problems have been reported.

In the future, the LC Knee could be a viable option for amputees in developed countries who need a waterproof limb for recreational use. In the United States, the majority of amputations occur due to blood vessel disorders that arise as complications from diabetes.

Over the next 12-18 months, Dr. Andrysek and global partners will test the LC Knee in various sites to see how it performs in different cultures and environments. Dr. Andrysek is collaborating with the Red Cross, one of the largest suppliers of affordable prosthetics to developing countries, and working with partners in Chile, India, Colombia, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Tanzania.

If the LC Knee proves successful in the test phase, Dr. Andrysek hopes to apply for an additional $1 million grant from Grand Challenges Canada to move forward with production and distribution on a global scale. This creative innovation could improve the lives of amputees in developing countries around the world.

CONNECT THE DOTS

Learn more about the LC Knee at the Bloorview Research Institute where you can watch some videos of the knee in action. You can find out more about improving the health of mine amputees in developing countries at the Canadian Red Cross and the United Nations. The Amputee Coalition provides education, support and advocacy to people affected by limb loss in the U.S.

Originally published on GE Healthy Outlook, May 2, 2012.

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