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Dec 15, 2021

How bonded leg prostheses are improving lives in developing countries

When walking is a luxury

Eduardo Sotelo working on a prosthesis

   

What is it like to put all your eggs in one basket, take risks and believe in something that doesn’t yet exist? Eduardo Luiz Sotelo Meza believes his startup will enable many people to do what most of us take for granted: walk. In developing countries, leg prostheses are often a luxury that only a few of those affected can afford. However, in these regions in particular, the demand is very high and the lack of supply not only determines the quality of life, but often also the livelihood of an entire family. Horus Prosthetics wants to enable inclusive mobility with the help of affordable and durable leg prostheses and make a sustainable contribution to improving the lives of many people.

In this interview, Eduardo tells us how he and a friend came up with the idea for the startup, why their belief in it outweighs the risk and how adhesives are helping to make the vision of affordable prostheses a reality.

Thank you very much for taking the time to share your story with us. How did it all start?

Eduardo Sotelo: Eight years ago, I met my friend Asbjörn in college. One day, shortly after we met, he was limping a bit as he went down the stairs. When I asked him if he had hurt himself while exercising, he just laughed and said that that was perfectly normal when both legs had been amputated. After a train accident, Asbjörn had to have both legs surgically removed I was impressed that his prostheses allowed him to move so naturally that I hadn’t even noticed it  at first. However, this technology comes at a price. I am from Peru and came to Germany in 2011 to study. I had never seen anything like this in Peru. For many people in developing countries, prostheses are simply not an option because of their cost. As mechatronics engineers, we knew we could develop something that was more affordable.

How did you go about it then?

Eduardo: That’s how the idea was born, but it remained just a vision for a long time. A vision of how we could help people in poorer regions to continue their lives somewhat normally despite an amputation. That changed last year when we both had more time due to personal circumstances and picked up on the idea again. In July 2020, we sat together in a restaurant and drew the first knee joint of our prostheses. Everything has happened very quickly since then.

Eduardo puts glue on a metal part.

A friend's prosthesis was the impetus for founding the start-up.

What has changed since then?

Eduardo: In December 2020, we completed the first prototype and we are currently in the final stages of setting up the company. Our company has recently been registered, the patent for the prostheses has been filed and we are in the process of building our website. This is the starting point for us to send our first products to Peru and sell them.

Eduardo Sotelo, Co-founder Horus Prosthetics

   

Our products are well made, affordable and durable, and are designed to enable people in poorer areas to continue living their lives as unrestrictedly as possible and to go to work.

   

Congratulations. How does it feel to finally put the idea into practice?

Eduardo: It’s nice to see that we are pushing our own vision and we’re proud of what we’ve already accomplished. However, a startup also carries a lot of risk and you don’t see any tangible results, especially in the beginning. You just trust that it will work. That’s not actually logical at all, because you’re relying on something that doesn’t even exist yet and you don’t know if it’s even going to succeed. Nevertheless, we simply believe in it.

The Horus Prosthetics team.

The Horus Prosthetics team around founder Eduardo Sotelo.

What makes your prostheses so special and what is your vision with them?

Eduardo: Currently, many prosthetic solutions are being developed mainly for industrialized countries. Our products are well made, affordable and durable, and are designed to enable people in poorer areas to continue living their lives as unrestrictedly as possible and to go to work.  Our prosthesis is made up of various individual parts. The heart of the product that we develop and produce is the knee joint. We buy the foot from a company in Upper Bavaria. The managing director has already lived in Ecuador himself, knows the Latin American world and has the same sustainable values and goals as we do. We are working with a company in Berlin to make the leg and would like to introduce the production process in Peru. Producing the socket is much more difficult; mass production is not really possible. This is because each amputation is different and the socket has to be adapted to the person. Thus, each socket is a unique piece that has to be produced on site. To do this, we use a digital process that can be used to create an initial model based on the residual limb measurement.

How do you go about making prostheses that are as cost-effective as possible and still durable?

Eduardo: When sourcing our materials, we look for creative ways and materials that are of good quality yet affordable to keep the price of the prosthesis low. For our knee joint and for the assembly of the individual components, for example, we use adhesive bonding materials to connect the tube to the tube cavity and the deep groove ball bearing to the axle. This is quick and less expensive than drilling or clamping. Another challenge we were able to overcome by using adhesives was reducing the cost of manufacturing the socket. The limb protection is made of silicone and a fabric, the liner, which is very expensive. We found a manufacturer in Germany that makes this material cheaper, but the problem was that the material stretched in width and length. Longitudinal expansion is unacceptable for a prosthesis, as this elasticity would constantly interfere with movement when walking. We ended up using fabric-to-fabric adhesion in the socket and used tape that was glued to the fabric. In this way, we can prevent upward stretching and reduce the cost of the liner. Adhesives therefore help us realize our goal of low-cost prostheses because they are the most economical solution for some connections. In addition, we achieve long-lasting connections that are also lightweight and improve the design.

Eduardo Sotelo, Co-founder Horus Prosthetics

   

Adhesives therefore help us realize our goal of low-cost prostheses because they are the most economical solution for some connections. In addition, we achieve long-lasting connections that are also lightweight and improve the design.

   

A bottle of glue between tools and screws.

Adhesives make the prostheses more durable and cost-effective.

What is your vision for the future?

Eduardo: We are just starting to sell the prostheses and are curious to see how the initial tests will turn out. In any case, we need more fundings to get off to a successful start. Once that’s done, we’d like to expand next year and establish ourselves in Latin America. Personally, I hope that in a year’s time I will be able to look back at many patients whom we have enabled to walk again and see that it pays off when belief outweighs risk.

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