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Experts share high-tech ideas for improving experiences of amputees

Some of the guests and speakers who attended the workshop.

Swansea University experts say digital transformation could bridge the gap between knowledge, revolutionary technology, and patient psychology, to improve the experiences of amputees and clinicians.

A unique event, hosted by the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering brought together a range of healthcare professionals, academics from diverse backgrounds including psychology, machine learning, design engineering, bio-mechanists and computer modellers and industry experts.

Its aim was to discuss and better understand the expectations of prosthetic foot-users and clinicians.

Event organiser Dr Rajesh Ransing, associate professor of mechanical engineering, said: “Swansea has an ambitious vision to become an international creative hub for academics, clinicians, industries, and the end-users (individual patients/societies) for the development of the next generation of assistive technologies.

“This event was a chance to bring together the expertise that could help us achieve that ambition.”

He said the highlight of the day was a presentation by Rainer Schultheis, managing director of Saphenus Medical Technology, who demonstrated how technology can be used to make the brain feel that there is a toe at the end of the prosthetic foot.

Dr Ransing said: “We are delighted to have been able to present this technology not only for the first time in Wales but also for the first time UK.

“We feel this gives Swansea a distinct advantage when it comes to working with the NHS and funding bodies to improve patient care.”

The event also saw Professor Rick Neptune, an expert on modelling of neuromuscular biomechanics from the University of Texas at Austin, give a presentation on the use of computer modelling and experimental data on human gait. Prosthetic foot user Paul McIntyre, who attended the event, agreed with his insights on balance control.

Dr Nick Owen provided a tour of his gait lab facility, in the University’s Sports Science Department while Dr Ben Morgan presented a novel calibration prosthetic foot that he designed as part of his EngD research. Dr Philippa Stewart, a neurosurgical physician, visualised the benefit of this foot as a super-adjustable assessment tool.

Dr Ransing gave a presentation on behalf of students, Dr Turki Al Qalmas and Megan Morris.  Dr Al Qalmas’ work focussed on categorising unhealthy loads from gait data, and optimising stiffness parameters, using kinematic and numerical simulation models while Ms. Morris’ presentation was based on nature-inspired ideas on reinforced lattice design structures that can be 3D printed with two materials.

Mechanical engineering PhD student Philip Pe demonstrated how computer vision algorithms can be used to identify gait markers on a human body, using webcam and mobile phone cameras.  He hopes this tool, coupled with his research on AI and deep-learning models, has the potential to improve experiences of amputees and clinicians. His presentation particularly impressed physiotherapist Luke Tobin and prosthetist Paul Drayton who both felt this tool could revolutionise patient experience.

Other presentations were by Professor Philip Sewell, of Bournemouth University, and Professor Phil Reed, from Swansea University’s School of Psychology, who explained how patient psychology plays a crucial role in assessing the successful outcomes of assistive technology.

He said: “Patients are sentient beings, who adapt to their environment and react to their expectations, and their needs change over time.

“This all impacts their psychological state.  These changeable and dynamic aspects of a person affect their subjective assessment of the assistive technology.  In addition, there are psychological barriers to using assistive technologies.”

His views were shared by all clinicians present including NHS vascular consultant Mr David Bosanquet and Dr Pooja Mukul, consulting physician at Jaipur Foot Organisation in India, who both attended the workshop via zoom.

Dr Ransing and his colleagues are now hoping to build on the success of the event and discuss how they can promote and develop expertise at Swansea.