Smart sole support for diabetic feet

January 22, 2015

Research by the Wound Management Innovation CRC may lead to a reduction of crippling foot injuries for people living with diabetes.

Experts from the Wound Management Innovation CRC, based at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, said a shoe insole that communicates with the wearer’s phone could prevent foot injuries among diabetics.

Diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases globally, with the number of people living with diabetes worldwide set to grow from 382 million in 2013 to 592 million by 2035, according to Diabetes Australia. Poor blood glucose control among diabetics can cause nerve damage to feet and inhibit blood supply. This results in an absence of sensation in the feet, which can lead to serious foot injury.

200115_woundmgmt_box2The CRC is about to start a patient trial of an insole made using pressure-sensing fabric that sends a message to a smartphone warning of potential damage to a diabetic’s feet.

The pressure-sensitive fabric was originally developed at RMIT University for elite athletes. It has since been fine-tuned in consultation with experts in podiatry from Southern Cross University.

Electronics in the insole will pick up changes in the distribution of pressure applied in each step, which are indicative of a wearer subconsciously favouring a foot or part of a foot. The electronics will then communicate wirelessly to the wearer’s smartphone at the point where the patient is at risk of foot damage.

Diabetics are prone to minor breaks in the skin of the foot, which can lead to ulcers. Patients with a history of these ulcers have a high risk of the problem recurring, so the trial will initially determine if the technology can reduce the recurrence of skin breaks. An ulcer on the bottom of the foot can develop into an injury that penetrates to the bone and can cause chronic infections, open sores and eventually result in amputation.
CRC Chief Executive Officer Dr Ian Griffiths said the technology had the potential to reduce the incidence of ulcer recurrence among people living with diabetes, saving them from severe pain, possible amputation and incapacity.

200115_woungmgmt_box“Diabetics have to be very careful of foot injuries. An injury can cause months of pain and anguish. It can keep diabetics off their feet and stop them going to work, doing the shopping – generally leading a normal life.”

The CRC initiative involves QUT, Southern Cross University, RMIT and its industrial partner Smith & Nephew as an advisor.

The CRC, funded until July 2018, is working with similar organisations in Canada and Wales to leverage strengths in scientific and clinical research and education through an International Wound Management Research Collaboration. The project will focus on a postgraduate student exchange program and establish the International Registry of Wounds.

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