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Graduate student from Sierra Leone wins health invention price at Lemelson-MIT Program

By Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya

Today April 9th, the Lemelson-MIT Program will announce the graduate winner of the prestigious Lemelson-MIT National Collegiate Student Prize Competition in the “Cure it” category, which rewards students working on technology-based inventions that can improve healthcare. David Sengeh will be awarded with $15,000 Lemelson-MIT “Cure it!” Graduate award. This year’s winner from Sierra Leone is revolutionizing the world of wearable mechanical interfaces for amputees.

David Sengeh’s interest is designing prostheses stems from his childhood. He grew up in Sierra Leone during the civil war, when amputation was an all-too-common practice employed by the rebels. Post war, Sengeh witnessed those around him struggle with ill-fitting prosthetics that were too uncomfortable to wear.

The 26-year-old Harvard graduate and PhD Candidate at MIT’s Media Lab has channeled these experiences and skills as a transformative technologist to design more comfortable and affordable prosthetic sockets, helping to improve the lives of amputees in Sierra Leone and worldwide. 

Sengeh is also empowering the youth of Sierra Leone to create and implement solutions to challenging issues through his nonprofit Global Minimum Inc. Sengeh and his team at Global Minimum, with support from the Clinton Global Initiative, recently committed to creating innovation labs in schools that will provide tools and leadership to support students’ inventions, creativity and entrepreneurship.

There are an estimated two million amputees in the United Stateswith an estimated global amputee population of ten million; many of these people have comfort and mobility issues with their prostheses. Inventions in prosthetics abound, however the prosthetic socket or interface often dictates usability. The current state-of-the-art socket solutions are often uncomfortable, leading to pressure sores, deep tissue injury, and other secondary challenges.

But for David, he has the solution to invent new ones. According to a statement from the Lemelson MIT Program, David Sengeh is designing and building next-generation prosthetic interfaces using quantitative patient-specific data in a reliable, cost effective and repeatable way. His process uses advances in magnetic resonance imaging, computer-aided design and manufacturing to create 3D printed; customized prosthetic interfaces that better match the contours of the human body, reducing pressure on the body and improving comfort and mobility. The anatomy of the remaining limb is used to design a socket interface with structural integrity based on human data.

aThe statement further states that the recent addition of carbon fiber made Sengeh’s 3D printed sockets more structural, while allowing for the intended prosthetic to conform to bony structures in the residual limb. Sengeh has also worked with low level laser therapy practitioners to design a custom product to treatpatients who have pressure sores on their residual limbs.

According to the Lemelson-MIT Media Lab, Sengeh’s hope is that the tools and processes he creates will bring low-cost and highly functional prosthetic sockets to patients all over the world.  His processes have been tested by veterans and more are being created for patients, including those from the Boston Marathon bombings. This invention could also lead to industry advances, from streamlining production, to reducing costs, and most importantly enabling prosthetics to fit more patients.

His design has implications beyond prosthetics to all mechanical interfaces including braces and orthotics. They assured in the statement that there is a patent-pending application for this technology, and Sengeh is focused on launching a prosthetic socket and interface design company within the next year.

His counterpart winners, Alex Devon, Kayla Gainer and Tyler Ovington, Clemson University will also work on a low-cost glucometer and strip system for diabetics in resource-poor settings. They believe that the use of inkjet printing will drastically lower the cost of test strips (1/100th of the cost of standard strips), making it possible for diabetics in resource-poor settings to properly manage their disease. The team’s system has two parts: The InkJet Printed Glucose Test Strips and the Glucometer.

The simplicity of the test strip manufacturing process and usability of the glucometer will allow for local manufacturing and reduced costs.  A reduction in logistical problems associated with purchasing and distributing diabetic test materials from other countries is also anticipated. The team is currently focusing efforts and testing on quality control measures using glucose standard solutions to advance their work further. They are also piloting the technology at Muhmbili Hospital in Tanzania with plans to partner with local technicians, hospitals, clinics, and the Tanzanian Diabetes Association to produce and distribute the technology. 

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