Diabetes can cause nerve damage and poor circulation in the feet, which can lead to foot ulcers, blisters, pain, and foot infections. In some cases, the damage can be severe and patients can lose their feet. The foot injuries take a long time to heal and can also cause an effect of the patients’ walking gait, which leads to further problems.
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), in collaboration with the Karnataka Institute of Endocrinology and Research (KIER), have developed a set of unique self-regulating footwear for people with diabetes that aims to help alleviate some of these diabetes-related foot issues.
The footwear is 3D printed and can be customized to an individual’s foot dimensions and gait.
These 3D printed sandals feature a snapping mechanism that keeps the feet well-balanced, enabling faster healing of the injured region and preventing injuries from arising in other areas of the feet.
The invention aims to assist with diabetic peripheral neuropathy, which is an effect of diabetes affecting the extremities.
The neuropathy can lead to a loss of sensation leads to irregular walking patterns in persons with diabetes.
Due to the loss of sensation in the feet from the neuropathy, a diabetic person can develop an irregular gait which means that the pressure is unevenly distributed. Parts of the foot where the pressure exerted is high are at greater risk of developing ulcers and other issues.
To combat this effect, the researchers developed arches in their sandals that ‘snap’ to an inverted shape when a pressure beyond a certain amount is reached.
“When we remove the pressure, [the arch] will automatically come back to its initial position – this is what is called self-offloading,” said Priyabrata Maharana, PhD student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the university.
“We consider the individual’s weight, foot size, walking speed and pressure distribution to arrive at the maximum force that has to be off-loaded.”
“This is a mechanical solution to a problem,” said GK Ananthasuresh, Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
“There are a lot of commercial shoe manufacturers selling costly footwear in the name of giving comfort using what they call memory foam, but we have tested them, and they don’t have the required characteristics. This footwear can be used not only by people suffering from diabetic neuropathy, but by others as well.”
The next stage for the researchers is to commercialize their shoes, and they will do so with the aid of start-ups Foot Secure, who are a foot care clinic, and also Yostra Labs, who have developed screening technology to help identify foot neuropathy. Both start-ups are based in Bengaluru, India.
“There are a lot of commercial shoe manufacturers selling costly footwear in the name of giving comfort using what they call memory foam, but we have tested them, and they don’t have the required characteristics,” said Ananthasuresh.
“This footwear can be used not only by people suffering from diabetic neuropathy, but by others as well.”