There are 32 million amputees worldwide (6.5 million in North America and Europe alone with 6,500 dedicated fitting centres) and with that number expected to double by 2050 as a result of the obesity epidemic [FAC1] (the main culprit being vascular disease) and an aging population, the business of prosthetics is an international one. Thankfully, the technology is now so advanced that an amputation no longer needs to be a lifetime of disability, a fact utterly proven at the Rio Olympics in 2016 when Greek Paralympian Michail Seitis set a world record for his division with a time of 49.66 seconds in the men’s 400-metre final, despite coming in sixth place out of eight runners… the irony being that the five who finished ahead of him were double amputees and he joked about being let down by his ‘one good leg’. But, even with these premium, world-class prosthetics, the current method for fitting relies on a trial and error methodology which takes time with varying results dependent on the patient’s feedback, the prosthetist’s level of experience and the type of amputation.
Frederico Carpinteiro and Mario Saenz Espinoza met while studying at Portugal’s leading FEUP (Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto), respectively gaining an Integrated Master’s and PHD in Bioengineering/Biomedical Engineering. They realised that this was an industry that could hugely benefit from their collective learnings, seized the opportunity and co-founded ADAPTTECH.
‘A prosthetic limb lasts on average for two to four years’, explains Mario. ‘The current method for fitting is that the amputee gets examined and measured, a plaster mould is cast and a transparent check socket is then made. Normally, it takes several adjustments to get the right fit and each adjustment costs well over €100, so the costs are high. In addition, insurance companies or healthcare services do not take into account these extra visits – only providing the funding for the prosthesis itself – which leaves the clinic’s profit margins heavily reduced’.
‘We mustn’t forget the effects on the patient either’, continues Frederico. ‘The welfare of the amputee is severely affected with any delay with mobility and dexterity drastically reduced. And this arduous and antiquated system can take weeks’. This is where ADAPTTECH comes in.
‘Our idea was to use a laser scanner system and wearable technologies to address this problem. The laser scans the inner surface of the socket and the sensorised interface is used to gather bio-data. With this, we can build a profile and precisely locate all the problematic points where corrections are needed and eventually suggest the required modifications to maximise the adaption. This in turn reduces friction and pressure pain, and, based on our preliminary tests, decreases the number of interventions needed to reach a final socket by up to 40%[MSE2] and speeds up the whole process by as much as 60%[MSE3] . It is also essential to point out that it’s as much about what we don’t do: we don’t replace the prosthetist or devalue their craftsmanship in any way, we don’t scan the stump and we don’t 3D print a socket (though, if necessary, our software is perfectly able to send its output to any 3D printer or CNC machine)’.
With a system that aims to reduce the number of interventions to just one or two, they have conservatively estimated that the saving made per fitting centre to be in excess of €50,000 per annum. ‘We deliver value to the whole process: the centre in which the prosthesis is fitted, the clinician and ultimately, the patient. In a nutshell, we are faster, cheaper and our results are better’.
ADAPTTECH are seeking funding to run pilots in strategic countries such as the UK, Germany and the US. They have already raised £900,000 from Mercia Technologies and Hovione Capital and have attracted some serious interest in the US: Ohio Willow-Wood, one of the largest prosthetic component manufacturers has already sent them a letter of interest about the possibility of distributing ADAPTTECH products within the entire North American region. They will monetise the business by supplying the centres with an initial pack, an annual software license and the necessary consumables involved with the process. This is real technology, with real power to transform the lives of those living with the reality of amputation.