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Taking Extra Credit to New Levels: Students Build Knee Brace

Two biomedical engineering undergraduate students are trying to change that. Michael Hemati and Chet Murthy, both juniors, have spent the past year working on a knee brace that could benefit sufferers of knee arthritis and give them pain-free mobility. It all started at one of Chet’s routine visits with his family physician, Dr. Larry Kravitz.

knee xray

An xray was taken of the knee to determine
if the brace prototype created enough space to
allow cartilage to heal.

In addition to practicing family medicine, Dr. Kravitz of Austin Regional Clinic has worked in sports medicine since 1982. In that time, he has seen countless arthritic knees, and it has been his pet project to find a solution to help his patients. After Murthy learned of the problem, he was eager to test the theories he learned biomedical engineering courses. 

After recruiting his good friend, Murthy and Hemati began brainstorming and planning possible knee brace solutions with Dr. Kravitz in January 2010.

Having previously taught at the Florida College of Medicine, Dr. Kravitz was eager to guide Murthy and Hemati.

“Learning occurs through teaching,” says Kravitz, “And I welcomed working with a team to tackle this kind of an issue. It’s not a one-person job.” 

Hemati and Murthy’s plan was to develop a knee brace prototype that would separate bones completely, allowing damaged cartilage to heal. Braces currently on the market shift weight from one side of the knee to the other, which ultimately damages healthy cartilage while trying to heal damaged tissue.

The two students also enlisted help from the robotics team at Anderson High School, and a number of high school students lent their expertise in CAD drafting and robotic modeling.

“It was an interesting challenge mentoring the high school kids,” Hemati says, “Especially knowing that just a few years ago, Chet and I were in high school ourselves.”

In the summer, the team was ready to put their designs to the test, with support from Austin Regional Clinic and Texas Orthopedics who provided grants, existing knee braces, and amazing learning opportunities.

“Both Austin Regional Clinic and Texas Orthopedics provided resources,” says Murthy. “We presented our findings to prominent doctors, and Michael, myself, and some of the high school students were able to see how the knee works on cadavers after a conference for surgeons, which we were lucky enough to be invited to.”

After months of balancing heavy biomedical engineering course loads, volunteer efforts with student organizations, and part-time jobs, Hemati and Murthy had developed two prototypes with the help of their team. The first prototype was made from parts developed at the university’s machine shop, and another, more successful prototype  was developed with parts from existing braces and materials purchased at Home Depot that were later manipulated with the help of a machinist.

The time had come to test the knee brace. To do so, the brace was put on a subject’s leg, and an x-ray was taken to determine if it successfully created space in the knee to allow damaged cartilage to heal. Unfortunately, the brace did not accomplish what Hemati and Murthy had intended, but that doesn’t mean that the two have given up.

A year after Hemati and Murthy initially began brainstorming with Dr. Kravitz, they have now begun work on a third prototype and are in the process of writing a patent to protect the work they’ve completed thus far.

Neither see the effort they put into their previous prototypes as a setback.

“Our work is moving significantly faster this time around, because we’re able to put to use all of the knowledge we gained,” Murthy says.