More than 26 million people in the United States suffer from diabetes. Many of these lose feeling in their feet, which can lead to ulcers that if untreated, can get infected. According to the Center for Disease Control, every 20 seconds a diabetes patient somewhere has a limb amputated as a result of such infections.

Researchers at the University of Arizona Department of Surgery have been working on a possible solution based on wearable technology. Their approach relies on socks that have pressure sensors built in, so that doctors can monitor potential problem spots on the feet of individual patients. Using fiber optics and other sensors, the socks can also monitor temperature and joint angles. This additional information can detect changes in range of motion and other signs that could help predict where ulcers might form.

The result could be earlier detection and treatment of foot problems, which in turn would reduce the chance of infection and eventual amputation.

The research is being conducted as a collaboration between UA’s Southern Arizona Limb Salvage Alliance (SALSA), the Interdisciplinary Consortium on Advanced Motion Performance (iCAMP), and Hamad Medical Corporation (Doha-Qatar). The project has received more than US$2.2 million in grants from the Qatar National Research Fund.