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Professor Audrey Zucker-Levin and Associate Professor Phyllis Richey Receive $1.5 Million Grant to Study Prosthetic Function of Veteran Amputees


The VALOR Study is the First Funded Research Collaboration Between the UTHSC Colleges of Health Professions and Medicine

Drs Richey and Zucker-Levin HomePageSlider
A $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity will allow Drs. Phyllis Richey (left) and Audrey Zucker-Levin to conduct the VALOR study to explore the health disparities that military veteran amputees face. They are pictured with a key focus of their research — the microprocessor-controlled prosthetic foot (MPF) component and a completed below-the-knee prosthesis incorporating the MPF.

Professor Audrey Zucker-Levin, PhD, PT, MBA, GCS Emeritus, and Associate Professor Phyllis Richey, PhD, of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), have been awarded a $1.5 million grant to study the effectiveness of one of the newest prosthetic feet on the market — the microprocessor-controlled prosthetic foot (MPF) — for use with military veteran amputees who have limited mobility.

The grant from the U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity will allow Dr. Zucker-Levin from the Department of Physical Therapy in the College of Health Professions and Dr. Richey from the Departments of Preventive Medicine, Physical Therapy and Pediatrics in the Colleges of Health Professions and Medicine to direct the Veteran Amputees Leading prOsthetic Research (VALOR) study at UTHSC. The aim of the study is to determine if an MPF will provide a preferable alternative to the most commonly prescribed prosthesis for the typical below-knee veteran amputee.

The project is titled “The Effect of a Microprocessor Prosthetic Foot on Function and Quality of Life in Transtibial Amputees Who Are Limited Community Ambulators.” It will be funded over three years to determine if exchanging a traditionally prescribed prosthetic foot with an MPF will improve walking efficiency, safety and quality of life.

More than half of all amputees fall each year, and 75 percent of those fall multiple times. Forty percent of these falls result in injury and 20 percent require medical attention. Approximately half of all amputees report a fear of falling. Falling and fear of falling often lead to activity avoidance, which may lead to a decreased quality of life.

The type of prosthetic foot generally prescribed for the typical amputee does not lift the toe when a step is taken. To compensate, the amputee is forced to bend the hip or knee to raise the leg higher or swing the leg out to the side in order to walk. In either case, balance is thrown off and the risk of falling greatly increases.

“We are very excited about our new Department of Defense award and the cross-college collaboration opportunity it presents to address an important disparity among veteran below-knee amputees,” Dr. Richey said.

Designed to raise the toe when a step is taken, the MPF theoretically should make walking easier and safer and reduce the risk of falling. Unfortunately, it is currently not prescribed for the typical below-knee amputee, who is an older person with complications from vascular disease and diabetes. Guidelines for prescribing the MPF restrict the device to higher-functioning individuals, like the active, athletic amputees seen in magazines and on TV.

“Due to financial limitations, newer prosthetic components are traditionally provided to the more able-bodied amputee,” said Dr. Zucker-Levin. “I am excited to see if providing a high-tech foot will improve function in the typical amputee.”

The U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity, the contracting element of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, provides support to the Command headquarters and affiliated organizations. For more information, please visit https://www.usamraa.army.mil/index.cfm.