Aadeel Akhtar – Social Justice Award Winner

12801503_10101501254196551_7141667036314709461_nAadeel Akhtar, PhD, was 7 years old when he first met a person with an amputation. She was his age, living in poverty in Pakistan, where he was visiting in the summer of 1994. That event spurred Aadeel’s interest in developing prosthetics for the entire world. To that end, he enrolled in the MD/PhD program in Neuroscience at the University of Illinois. While there, he established and directly supervised a team of 2 graduate students and 15 undergraduate students in the development of a low-cost, highly-functional prosthetic hand that can provide sensory feedback. His hand can be built for around $550 and has functionality comparable to prosthetic hands that cost $5000-$8000 in raw materials and are sold for around $30,000.

The vast majority of prostheses on the market only allow for hand open and close movements. Aadeel developed pattern recognition algorithms that enable finer control. Users are able to perform more complex movements like fine pinches and three-finger grasps just by making the same muscle movements they did prior to their amputation.

Furthermore, Aadeel implemented a method of providing touch/force feedback to patients by casting a $5 barometric pressure sensor in rubber, turning it into a highly sensitive touch sensor on the prosthesis. The pressure is translated into electrical stimulation pulses sent across the skin of the user to let them know when and how hard they are pressing on a surface. No other commercial prosthetic device provides this sensory feedback.

In August 2014, he traveled to Ecuador where he successfully tested his hand on an amputee of 30 years. In March 2016, he returned to Ecuador to enable the same patient to feel from his lost hand for the first time in 32 years using his sensory feedback technology. Locally, Aadeel has been working with an Iraq War veteran who lost his right arm below his elbow due to an improvised explosive device in 2005.

With a PhD under his belt, Aadeel is now finishing medical school at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Urbana. He lives with his wife Whitney and 2-year-old son Zain.