Getting a prosthetic leg will be a little more comfortable for patients with a device assembled by Rice University freshmen.
The Castaway team of students reconfigured an exercise machine to support patients who have to stand as they are fitted for prosthetics. The goal is to help them be as comfortable as possible while casts are made and prosthetics fitted.
Rice freshman Isabel Gonzalez adjusts a setting on the Castaway team’s device to make long fitting sessions more comfortable for patients being fitted for a prosthetic leg. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
The students — Michael Young, Isabel Gonzalez, Brian Ying, Regina Barcio and Chinwe Appio-Riley — chose the project during a freshman engineering class that challenges them to find practical solutions for real-world problems.
The project began with a request by the Texas Medical Center branch of the Hanger Clinic, which specializes in prosthetics and orthotics. The hope was to not only make patients more comfortable, but also make the final prosthetic a better fit.
“Right now, they use parallel bars, so the patients have to support themselves with just their hands,” Barcio said. “And bigger patients can’t really use the bars.”
The stand, built at Rice’s pioneering Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, features a backrest and adjustable armrests to help patients balance and stabilize themselves as they stand on one leg for extended periods. “Our stand is designed for patients from 3 feet 6 inches to 6 feet 6 inches tall, and if they’re taller than that, they might have to lean over a bit,” Barcio said.
Team Castaway, from left: Michael Young, Brian Ying, Isabel Gonzalez, Regina Barcio and Chinwe Appio-Riley. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
“The key thing about being casted is being able to stand upright,” Appio-Riley said. “That way, when they make the mold for a leg, it fits perfectly. If the patient is slouching a little bit, it can mess up the mold and it won’t be comfortable.”
The stand would come in handy at both the initial casting and the final fitting, she said. “They make a plaster (cast of the limb) and use that as a mold because they’re going to make a silicon sheath to put the rest of your leg in,” Appio-Riley explained. “That’s what will hold your leg and attach it to the prosthetic. Plastering takes about 20 minutes, and taking it from plaster to plastic takes about two weeks. Then they’ll order the prosthetic to be attached.”
To test the stand, the team recruited fellow students to hold a position for as long as they could, Ying said. “The record was about two hours,” he said.
Team Castaway member Michael Young prepares to drill a part in the machine shop at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
The students said they expect to deliver their prototype to the clinic for further refinement. The project was co-sponsored by the Rice 360˚ Institute for Global Health and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Renata Ramos, the team’s faculty adviser, is a lecturer in bioengineering at Rice.
The Castaway team will be among dozens from Rice competing for cash prizes at the George R. Brown School of Engineering’s annual Engineering Design Showcase at the university’s Tudor Fieldhouse at 4:30 p.m. April 13. The event is open to the public.
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