An innovative new method of attaching prostheses to patients is helping to significantly improve the lives of amputees in the UK, a small clinical trial has found. If the device—which attaches artificial limbs via a bone implant—is deemed a success at the end of the evaluation, it could be made available both in the UK and internationally.
Despite dramatic advances in the technology of artificial limbs, the method of fitting them to the body has remained essentially unchanged for hundreds of years. After upper or lower limbs are amputated, usually skin and muscle is left at the end of the stump and is sewed closed. Once the wound has adequately healed, individuals are fitted with a prosthesis that attaches to the stump via a rubber socket. While molds are used to ensure that these fittings are a close match, most patients experience problems such as chaffing, skin ulcers and pain. Unfortunately, this means that as many as 80% of patients stop wearing their prosthesis within two years.
In a bid to do away with this conventional socket method and improve the lives of amputees, a group called Stanmore Implants has developed an alternative technique called Intraosseous Transcutaneous Amputation Prosthesis (ITAP). This deer antler-inspired method involves inserting a metal implant into the stump and fixing it directly to the bone. The implant protrudes through the amputated limb and serves as an attachment point for the prosthesis.
ITAP is not only designed to be more comfortable for the patient, but to also take on daily loads through the skeleton rather than the soft tissue. They are also fitted with a safety device that allows the amputee to quickly and easily remove the limb. Furthermore, this device releases the artificial limb if high loads are applied, much like a ski binding, preventing damage to the bone if the patient falls.
While this may sound great on paper, the proof is in the pudding. Researchers at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital are putting ITAP to the test and have completed the first stage of a clinical trial. Twenty patients with above-the-knee amputations were enrolled, all of whom had ITAPs implanted.
While the trial is ongoing, so far all of the patients have reported that their quality of life was significantly improved by ITAP, and some even described it as “life-changing.” If positive results continue, ITAP could be rolled out across the UK and internationally through specialist clinics, according to The Guardian. Researchers in the US are currently working on a similar design, but it would need to be FDA approved before it can be used.