An estimated 150,000 Americans experience lower extremity amputation each year, including more than 1,400 Minnesotans. Many individuals with amputations wear a leg prosthesis, including a prosthetic foot that is aligned for use with a single shoe heel height. Changing shoes and deviating from this single heel height can cause misalignment of the prosthesis and have consequences for the user, including pain and discomfort, balance impairment, or damage to the residual limb.

The Minneapolis Adaptive Design & Engineering (MADE) Program has developed a modular ankle-feet system incorporating additive manufactured foot shapes designed to match nearly any pair of shoes. This system allows for the fabrication of infinite foot shapes at heel heights up to four inches. Additionally, the alignment of the prosthetic foot is built into each foot shape, allowing a quick switch from shoe to shoe without the risk of misalignment due to changing heel heights. This ankle-feet system has been licensed for commercialization to MADE’s industry partner, UNYQ. To date, UNYQ has manufactured each foot shape from a mirrored 3D scan of the prosthesis user’s non-amputated foot. However, this method has not yet been implemented clinically and may present challenges due to the time and skill required to collect 3D scans.

PhD student Nicole Walker (Rehabilitation Science), in a project called “Breaking the mold: Leveraging additive manufacturing to improve footwear options for prosthesis users,” is seeking to understand the most effective method of data collection and translation to UNYQ to streamline the clinical workflow and provide the highest quality individualized patient care for lower extremity prosthesis users. This effort engages a multidisciplinary team of researchers, engineers, designers, and clinicians to develop a data driven workflow for individualized patient care, ultimately improving the quality of life of prosthesis users across Minnesota, the United States, and the world.

Some funding for this project was provided by a 2023 Research Computing-MnDRIVE PhD Graduate Assistantship. The RC-MnDRIVE Graduate Assistantship program supports U of M PhD candidates pursuing research at the intersection of informatics and any of the five MnDRIVE areas:

  • Robotics
  • Global Food
  • Environment
  • Conditions
  • Cancer Clinical Trials

This project is part of the Robotics MnDRIVE area. See the complete list of the RC-MnDRIVE Graduate Assistantships for 2023.

photos of artificial leg being fitted into foot shapes with different heel heights