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Rhythma Kaul, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, May 11, 2011
Priya Singla can't stop smiling. Her 16-year-old son Karan Aditya Singla, who suffers from cerebral palsy and has been wheelchair-bound since childhood, will soon be able to walk. On Tuesday, Karan was fitted with walking calipers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The calipers have been designed with the help of Michigan Technical University (MTU), US.

With this advanced pair of calipers, Karan will soon be able to walk on his own. "It feels different," he said, smiling.

Not just Karan, this new technology will change the lives of all those who are paralysed waist down, as not only is it available at one-tenth the price, it also enables the person to kneel and squat apart from helping the user walk in an almost natural manner.

The current ones are imported from Germany and cost R2.5 lakh and the user has to depend on crutches and drag himself to move forward.  

"Due to its high cost there weren't many takers, so the company had to withdraw the product. The ones we developed will not cost more than R25,000," said Dr Rajesh Malhotra, professor, department of orthopaedics, AIIMS, who was involved in designing the calipers with the MTU team.

A team of eight mechanical engineering students from MTU designed two prototypes - one adult and one for children - as part of their final year design project.

In April last year, they had contacted AIIMS with their proposal. "We didn't want them to go for the usual cars or bridges, as is expected of a mechanical engineering student. When they discussed their idea, the university was too happy to help," said Tammy Donahue, faculty member, MTU, and the project supervisor.

The new calipers were also tried on a 38-year-old man, paralysed due to a spinal injury, on Tuesday.

The design is locally made at the workshop of a Delhi-based NGO-Ortho Prosthetics Care and Rehabilitation. "We will provide the calipers for free to the poor. To begin with, we will fit two persons in a month at AIIMS. For those who can afford to buy these calipers, we'll sell them at nominal rates," said Vimal Oberoi, chairman of the NGO.

With the huge disease burden- nearly 50 people a month at AIIMS are paralysed waist down due to some neurological condition - it is a boon for the wheel-chair-bound.