David Sengeh working on a 3D printed prosthetic. Source: TED
David Sengeh working on a 3D printed prosthetic. Source: TED

David Sengeh, a 2014 TED fellow, is a graduate student at MIT perusing a doctorate degree and studying in the MIT media lab. Sengeh grew up in Sierra Lione where he witnessed the tragedy of many amputees struggling in the war-torn country. Sengeh recently shared his experience at a TED conference.

“Sierra Leone is infamous for a decade long rebel war in the 90s when entire villages were burnt down. An estimated 8,000 men, women and children had their arms and legs amputated during this time,” explained Sengeh. “As I watched people who I knew, loved ones, recover from this devastation, one thing that deeply troubled me was that many of the amputees in the country will not use their prosthesis. The reason, come to find out, was the prosthetic sockets were painful because they did not fit well.”

Sengeh vowed to improve the lives of those living in his home country and that has led him to study and develop better fitting, more comfortable prosthetic sockets. The socket is the part of the prosthetic that engages with the remaining part of the limb. Sengeh said current sockets create pressure points and blisters because they don’t fit well.  Sengeh talked to TED in an interview. “Because prosthetic sockets are designed with plaster molds and casts, modified based on the prosthetist’s experience, and dependent on the patient’s limb on that single day, the final socket is almost never comfortable,” said Sengeh. “There is uneven pressure over the entire limb, leading to pressure sores and deep tissue injury. This subsequently leads to secondary problems, including back pain. The current carbon fiber socket or polyurethane sockets are not conducive to a changing anatomy.”

Sengeh uses MRI images and CAD/CAM software to create an exact 3D model of the patient’s anatomy. He then uses this model to create digital models of a perfectly-fitted socket. Then using 3D printing technology, he creates a multi-material prosthetic socket which relieves pressure where needed on the anatomy of the patient. The results thus far have been positive and patients have reported less pain, even comparing the new socket to walking on pillows.

Sengeh has big hopes and dreams for his new prosthetic socket design. “My hope and desire is that the tools and processes being created in our research group will bring low-cost and highly functional prosthetic sockets to patients all over the world,” said Sengeh. “For me, a place to begin repairing the bodies and souls of those affected by war and disease is by designing comfortable and affordable interfaces that will help them take the step that moves them from disabled to living a meaningful and productive life.”

Sengeh hopes his research group can develop the tools and processes necessary to bring the low-cost and highly-functional variable impedance prosthetic (VIPr) socket to patients all over the world. “I hope this not only restores but indeed transforms the essence of human potential,”Sengeh said.