Australian Engineer Trialing Provision of Low-Cost Prosthetic Legs



Lee fits a patient. Photograph courtesy of the Melbourne School of Engineering, the University of Melbourne.

Professor Peter Lee, BEng, PhD, the deputy head in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Melbourne, Australia, is leading a trial to provide low-cost prosthetic limbs to patients in the developing world. Lee's team is using a process that allows prosthetic limbs to be created within a day, offering particular advantages for patients in remote and developing regions, where highly qualified prosthetists are either unavailable or unable to meet the intense local demand for prosthetic limbs.

The process for creating the prostheses, called the PCAST system, uses a portable unit to create a customized socket without the need for specialist technicians. The patient's residual limb is first wrapped with plaster and placed inside the PCAST unit. The unit then uses water pressure to create a custom socket shape that will allow the new leg to bear the patient's weight comfortably. Lee is the author of several studies examining the use of the PCAST, including "Comparative Study Between Patellar-Tendon-Bearing and Pressure Cast Prosthetic Sockets," and "Pressure Casting Technique For Transtibial Prosthetic Socket Fit in Developing Countries," published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research in Development in 2004 and 2014, respectively.

"The initial motivation for the project was the high number of amputees in Cambodia and Vietnam, which are affected by landmines," said Lee. "In these situations, groups such as the International Committee of the Red Cross have to solve the problem using appropriate technology that is also low in cost. Often it is just not commercially viable for major companies to produce low-cost prosthetics in developing countries."

Lee and his team have been working on the PCAST project trial with the Vietnamese Training Centre for Orthopaedic Technologists, Hanoi.

Lee said the PCAST technology was not aimed at replacing prosthetists. "This is about solving some of the problems that are unique in developing countries where there are too many amputees and not enough professionals working in the field. Our philosophy is that if you use the PCAST to treat the majority of patients, this leaves the prosthetist more time to focus on those complex cases that require more specialized expertise."

Editor's note: This story was adapted from materials provided by the University of Melbourne, Australia.