Can something as simple as putting on a pair of socks help save the limbs and lives of people with diabetes?
The University of Arizona Department of Surgery’s Southern Arizona Limb Salvage Alliance, or SALSA, the Interdisciplinary Consortium on Advanced Motion Performance, or iCAMP, and Hamad Medical Corporation recently were awarded more than $2 million in research grants from the Qatar National Research Fund to study the use of new technology incorporated in specially made socks.
The socks will be worn by people with diabetes who are at risk of forming foot ulcers that can lead to amputation and death.
The socks are made from cutting-edge, intelligent textiles that use fiber optics and sensors to monitor temperature, pressure and joint angles in the feet, alerting medical professionals and wearers of the socks of any developing problems. People with diabetes often lose the sensation of pain and are unaware of developing foot ulcers.
The new projects are part of ongoing research at the UA funded by the Qatar National Research Fund that uses wearable sensor technology to assess the impact physical activity has on wound healing in people with diabetes. Among the recently funded UA research projects are:
- A $1.1 million grant from the Qatar National Research Fund, in collaboration with Hamad Medical Corp., to use SmartSox to evaluate the risk of diabetic foot ulcers as well as assess the outcome of surgery on the foot. It is hoped the socks can help predict when an ulcer is about to form, allowing medical professionals to intervene. UA patients at high risk of developing ulcers will be enrolled in the study, along with patients who are undergoing surgery of the foot or ankle to prevent ulcer formation. An additional $300,000 project funded by Hamad Medical Corp. uses SmartSox technology to measure foot kinematics and kinetics to determine the best orthotic devices, braces and shoe modifications to prevent the formation of foot ulcers. The data will help the footwear industry improve shoe design to prevent ulcers in people with diabetes and reduce falls in older adults.
- A $1.1 million grant from Qatar National Research Fund for collaborative study among SALSA, Hamad Medical Corp. and the University of Texas Southwestern University to use innovative electrical stimulator technology in socks with the aim of improving balance and gait in patients with diabetes and neuropathy. Poor balance and limited movement can lead to falls, fractures, depression and decreased quality of life.
Biomedical engineer Bijan Najafi, a UA associate professor of surgery and director of iCAMP, said the socks measure three parameters critical in the management of diabetes: temperature, pressure and joint angles in the foot.
"For the first time, we have the technology to measure all three parameters simultaneously and during daily activity to help us identify the area of the foot most likely to develop an ulcer," Najafi said.
Dr. David G. Armstrong, a UA professor of surgery, director SALSA and iCAMP scientific director, said intelligent textiles "are like a security system for your body."
"You can't manage what you can't measure, and we are getting better at it with intelligent textiles and garments," Armstrong said. "This is the future of medicine. We are empowering patients to get feedback outside of the doctor's office and outside of the laboratory by developing an epicenter of mobile, personalized health."