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Widener University Receives Grant from the Department of Defense


Dr. Jonathon Akins, assistant professor, biomedical engineering 

The Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology at the University of Pittsburgh and the School of Engineering at Widener University received a grant for nearly $500,000 from the Department of Defense. Of the funding, nearly $140,000 will support the research Dr. Jonathan Akins, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, is doing in partnership with Dr. Goeran Fiedler, assistant professor of rehabilitation science and technology at the University of Pittsburgh, which will benefit military Service Members and veterans who live with limb loss. The funding is awarded by the U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity and managed by the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs.

A number of Service Members and veterans live with limb loss and have been affected by secondary conditions such as pressure sores, impaired blood perfusion and injuries from accidental falls due to overheating and sweating. “These individuals cannot use their prosthetics until their wounds are healed, and thus their livelihood is affected,” Akins said. “We want to help these individuals by preventing this type of injury and encourage them to wear their prosthesis for a longer period of time.”

Akins is collaborating with faculty at the University of Pittsburgh for the study, which seeks to improve prosthetic materials that come into contact with the skin for greater comfort, better health and improved quality of life.

The proposed project will generate evidence-based practice guidance for temperature control liner technologies and allow providers to optimize care. The clinical trial will include data collection over the course of two years at both the University of Pittsburgh and Widener University.

The research that Akins and his students will conduct will examine the use of prosthesis liners in patients to determine if liners that use phase-change material can actually regulate and reduce the user’s tendency to sweat.

“There are already commercially available liners that use phase-change materials,” Akins said. “This double-blinded study will collect data from individuals that use conventional liners and phase-change material liners to see if they experience a difference in prosthesis utilization, physical performance, and quality of life.”

According to Fiedler the preliminary studies on the phase-change liners indicate that the temperatures inside the socket stayed lower and rose slower than in conventional liners. “However, the clinical relevance of those findings remains unclear, which is why we want to do the study. To be able to control the micro-climate within a prosthesis socket entails better skin and tissue health.”

Akins and Fiedler expect the results will inform prescription for the phase-change materials based liner, which will lead to more efficient and comfortable prosthesis use.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for students at Widener and myself to have the ability to make an impact on a product that likely has the potential to reduce injuries among prosthetics users,” Akins said.

This is Akins’s second grant this year. In January, he received the Justus Lehmann Grant Award from the Foundation for Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation to investigate the turn-specific biomarkers from body-worn sensors during turning gait in lower-limb prosthesis users in collaboration with Dr. Brad Tucker, in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Pennsylvania.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises seven schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees. Visit the university website,