Thanks again go out to Perry V. Mayer for finding this article by Megan Ogilvie for the Toronto Star
If a man loses his leg in Sierra Leone — from the blast of a land mine or in a horrific car accident — chances are he will not be able to get an artificial limb.
Those used in Canada and the U.S. are too expensive, costing many thousands of dollars each. And if a limb were available, it would likely be too primitive for him to use.
But Jan Andrysek, a scientist at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, has developed a cheap and functional artificial limb for those who have had their leg amputated above the knee.
It costs just $50. Comparable limbs have a $3,000 price tag.
On Thursday, Andrysek received a $100,000 grant to further develop his innovative limb, prosaically dubbed the Low-Cost Prosthetic Knee Joint, or the LC Knee. The award is one of 15 handed out by Grand Challenges Canada, an independent non-profit organization funded by the federal government, to Canadian researchers working to improve global health conditions.
Researchers whose ideas prove successful are eligible for an additional $1 million to help get their innovation to the people who need it most.
Andrysek, a rehab engineer, says designing the limb had its challenges. It had to be simple, but robust enough to withstand rough terrain, whether unpaved roads or mountain paths. It had to be comfortable so those who use the limbs could go back to work, often the hard physical labour of farming. It also needed to be inexpensive, yet made of high-quality materials that could last for years without need of repair.
A key component of the limb is its unique knee mechanism that functions much like the human joint.
“It automatically locks and unlocks itself based on how the person is putting their weight on the limb,” Andrysek says, noting that many of the artificial limbs used in developing countries have outdated manual locks on the joints.
“The mechanisms and technologies used are based on designs from post-World War II. They have not changed in 50 years.”
In addition to the novel design, which cut costs, Andrysek made the LC Knee of low-cost thermoplastics which could be mass-produced using injection molding techniques.
“We can now mold all the pieces for a knee for about $15,” he says. “These are fairly complex parts that have a complex structure and integrity and strength.”
An added bonus of using plastic? The knee is waterproof, increasing its chances of working well in humid environments.
Andrysek plans to use the $100,000 grant to further test the LC Knee in developing countries, including Ethiopia, Colombia and Nicaragua.
15 Canadian researchers received $100,000 grants from Grand Challenges Canada. The money is to be used to help get innovative health solutions to people in the poorest regions of the world. Four grants went to Toronto researchers.
Lu Chen from the University of Toronto is developing a low-cost, portable device to monitor HIV progression in patients, a service usually unavailable to those in resource-poor areas.
Helen Dimaras from the University Health Network is working on a way to quickly evaluate the progression of cancer in patients living in rural Africa.
Ophira Ginsburg from Women’s College Research Institute is designing a mobile phone tool for community health workers to use to encourage women in rural Bangladesh to seek help for breast cancer, a disease for which many women do not get treated until it is too late.