Updated: Apr 25, 2022
Koalaa develops world-first post-surgery prosthesis for amputees
At Koalaa we have successfully piloted a first-of-a-kind soft prosthetic that can be used by amputees just a few hours post-surgery. The pioneering technology has been developed with, and tested by Alex Lewis, who lost all four limbs after a devastating reaction to Strep A in 2013 and recently underwent surgery to remove a further part of his upper arm.
After identifying the lack of post operative prosthetics, Koalaa used a £140,000 grant from Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund to research and develop the new soft prosthetic which is both sustainable and comfortable - utilising recycled materials and inspired by the softness of fabrics used in the medical industry for bandaging wounds.
The reimagined prosthetics moves away from the hard and abrasive material used in regular hard-shell prosthetics. Rather than it taking as long as six months before a patient is able to wear one, meaning precious time without their independence as they wait for their skin and muscles to heal on the affected limb, Koalaa’s self-fitting soft material prosthesis drastically reduces time to prosthesis and patients undergoing limb surgery can regain their independence much more quickly.
Koalaa was set up in 2020 by Imperial College Student, and now Chief Innovation Officer, Nate Macabuag. Nate befriended Alex Lewis, who has spoken publicly about his extensive surgery and rehabilitation journey, whilst working on a project at the university to better improve the design and fit of prosthetics. Nate has since worked with lead designer Elena Slobodyuk to grow the business from making prosthetics in their bedrooms, to a 25-strong team shipping over 300 soft prosthetics a month to people with limb differences all over the world.
Nate Macabuag, Chief Innovation Officer of Koalaa, said: “With over 60 million people across the world who don’t have access to soft prosthetics, we made it our mission at Koalaa to help everyone who needed it. Our business is about people, so when we realised there was an urgent need for a post-op prosthetic our design team worked tirelessly to create something that could give people their independence back straight away. Working with Alex Lewis is an incredible experience and we hope that we can make a real difference to hundreds more people with limb differences across the world.”
Jonny Voon, Head of the Sustainable Innovation Fund at Innovate UK, said: “The materials technology that the team at Koalaa have created is truly incredible and will revolutionise techniques for medical professionals and healthcare for people with limb differences. It’s so important that start-ups like Koalaa receive the funding they need to research and develop these innovations, particularly at a time where the economy is squeezed, so I’m incredibly pleased to see how the Sustainable Innovation Fund is making a real difference to people’s lives.”
The post-op prosthesis forms part of Koalaa’s portfolio of products aimed at addressing the high cost, high abandonment rate and poor comfort of current prosthesis. Based in London, the organisation has been providing upper limb prosthetic services to adults and children online, as well as to NHS and private clinics for two years.
The business provides products and services ranging from soft fabric prosthetic sleeves and attachments to a personal limb buddy system and peer-to-peer online community for advice and support. They have helped users to do all kinds of different activities such as cooking, playing guitar and even surfing. The prosthetic is made from recycled materials such as recycled fishing nets as part of the business’ mission to keep its environmental impact to a minimum.
About the Sustainable Innovation Fund
The Sustainable Innovation Fund, set up by the Government’s innovation agency Innovate UK in 2020, is a £250 million public investment programme that provides financial backing and support for innovation projects. Find out more here: https://sustainableinnovationfund.ukri.org/
About Innovate UK
Innovate UK is the UK’s innovation agency, a non-departmental government body with a mission to drive sustainable economic growth through business-led innovation, by investing in innovation and giving innovative businesses access to support. Find out more at: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/innovate-uk.