Engineering team aims for research 'Oscar'

Prosthetic leg in use.

Smart technology leads university design centre to Times Higher Education Award shortlist.

A team of Design Engineers from Bournemouth University (BU) is in the running to be named ‘Outstanding Engineering Research Team of the Year’.

The nomination for a 2010 Times Higher Education (THE) Award – considered the ‘Oscars’ of UK higher education – recognises the group’s contribution to improving the quality of life for many who wear artificial limbs. They will join their fellow THE Award finalists from BU's Sustainable Design Research Centre at a gala evening in London on Thursday, 25 November.

Professor Siamak Noroozi, Dr Phillip Sewell, Professor John Vinney and Professor Saeed Zahedi from the University’s Design Simulation Research Centre are developing ‘smart’ technology to assist and inform the fitting of lower limb prostheses to achieve sustainable comfort. In particular, the research will benefit the many wounded soldiers returning from conflict around the world.

“Our research team is comprised of multi-skilled people who are visionary and passionate about their work,” said Professor Noroozi, Director of the Centre. “Their activities are not confined to the health sector but extend to supporting other key industries and partners including BAE Systems and Airbus UK where we hope to make a significant impact on maintaining Britain’s position as a world leader at the forefront of innovation in engineering, design and technology. This is what UK industry needs to remain competitive and strengthen the country’s economy.”

Funding from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the medical charity REMEDI has lead researchers from the BU-based Centre to collaborate with the North Bristol NHS Trust and Chas A. Blatchford & Sons Ltd., the UK’s leading design and manufacturer of advanced prosthetics and orthotics devices.

Blatchford works with the Ministry of Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court, Surrey, where many soldiers return to following injury in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. Calling on its years of experience of working with advanced technology, the Centre, based in the University’s School of Design, Engineering & Computing, is using combined artificial intelligence and experimental methods to develop a smart prosthetic socket which is a real time system that measures interfacial interactions between the socket and the limb.
The new smart socket will compensate for changes due to ambulation and in limb volume due to fluid build-up and muscle wastage, and provide a high level of fit during walking, sitting, standing and manoeuvring over rough terrains. The new socket could also help 75% of amputee soldiers make a successful return to active duty.

In the UK, approximately one in every thousand of the population is an amputee. Globally this number is substantially higher.  The new contributors to this ever increasing statistic are the wars or regional conflicts currently going on around the world. For these unfortunate groups of people the only solution is the use of prosthetics. The key interface between the prosthesis and the human is the prosthetic socket. This component is the least understood within the prosthetic socket.

“The outcome of this research will assist in improving the quality of life of so many people,” said Professor Noroozi. “The socket comfort has been the subject of research for many years, but has not yet resulted in any clinical tools that can readily be used to measure, quantify or modify the quality of fit between the socket and the residual limb.

“The fit quality, pain and comfort are directly linked to the quality of life for people with below-knee amputation,” Professor Noroozi continued. “Comfortable sockets, reduces morbidity and allow amputees to return to an active life, engage in recreational activities such as sport and, in the case of soldiers, to return to active duties.”

In another high profile research project the team, involving Bryce Dyer, Professor Siamak Noroozi and Dr Phillip Sewell from the Design Simulation Research Centre, are developing technology that can inform and influence the International Paralympic Committee on the fair inclusion of technology in disability sport at the Paralympic Games and the disability sport  in general.

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