Thanks to researchers at Purdue, the healing process for the 15 percent of Americans that suffer with ulcers formed from diabetes may soon become much more portable.

One of the researchers on the project, Babak Ziaie, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, says the team has created a shoe insole that allows oxygen, one way to heal ulcers, to reach the ulcer throughout the day, allowing for more mobility for the patient.

The researchers used lasers to shape insoles out of silicon-based rubber. They then add pockets to send air only to the location of the ulcer on the patient’s foot.

Hongjie Jiang, a postdoctoral researcher in electrical and computer engineering, discussed the flexibility of silicon and its favorable oxygen permeability in a recent press release for Purdue News. “Laser machining helps (the team) to tune that permeability and target just the wound site, which is hypoxic (oxygen-deprived), rather than poison the rest of the foot with too much oxygen.” he said.

According to the release, diabetic ulcers are often the result of nerves damaged from high blood pressure, leading to the loss of feeling in the patient’s toes or feet. Without feeling in their feet, damage often goes unnoticed, which leads to tissue in the skin breaking down and forming ulcers. Other symptoms of diabetes such as dry skin and an excess of sugar in the bloodstream further hinder these ulcers from healing.

Ulcers cannot heal on their own, leading 14 to 24 percent of those who suffer from diabetic ulcers to lose toes, their foot, or even their entire leg.

Based on simulations run by the team, the insole can function in sending oxygen to the ulcer for at least eight hours a day with the pressure of a wearer weighing about 117-179 pounds. However, the researchers say the insole will be able to be customizable for any weight. The team’s goal for its development is for patients to be able to receive insoles customized to the location of their ulcers based off of a profile created from a prescription from their doctor and a picture of their foot.

The team’s work was published in the September edition of the Materials Research Society Communications, a journal by Cambridge core focused on the materials community.

Vaibhav Jain, another member of the team and research associate in electrical and computer engineering, describes the insoles as “mass customization at low cost.”

The insole technology currently has a patent pending, and the team is looking for corporate partners.


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