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Senior Issues

No More Sores

Each year, 60,000 Americans die from pressure sores -- ghastly open wounds that afflict the paralyzed and others with limited mobility. Many are wheelchair-bound: Because they are unable to shift their weight, pressure builds up on the weight-bearing parts of their bodies. Hence the wounds, which can lead to deadly infections. It took years of effort from three laboratories, but help may be on the way.

Ten years ago, orthopedist Joseph Navach joined engineer Robert Felton to form Numotech, a company that develops medical devices. They wanted to build an advanced seat cushion for wheelchairs, using pistons to inflate and deflate air sacs, thereby continually shifting the patient's weight. But the prototype was so ungainly that much of the electronics had to be slung over the chair. Felton turned to the Sandia National Labs for help. Using technology designed for guided missiles, Sandia miniaturized the mechanisms so that everything fit inside the cushion. The high-tech parts will be manufactured by Russia's Spektr Conversia.

Plans call for the cushion to be marketed within two years, at $500 to $750. In trials, it not only prevented ulcers but cut the healing time of existing wounds. "One patient, a concert pianist, had been bedridden for five years," says Felton. "A few weeks after going through our trial, he was working again. He hasn't had a sore since."

 Gunjan Sinha

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