Costello Prosthetic Warmers an early example of cross-border collaboration

You may not realize it at first glance, but Bryan Costello has an unusual quality about him. After being involved in a motorcycle accident in 2011, Bryan was left with an amputated leg. This was the start of his journey to the founding of Costello Prosthetic Warmers.

“I began to realize that my stump would get cold in my prosthetic and it not only affected my overall body temperature, but also the fit of my prosthetic,” says Bryan Costello, the founder of Costello Prosthetic Warmers, based in Syracuse, New York.

This problem isn’t exclusive to Mr. Costello. According to the Costello Prosthetic Warmers website, “There are over two million amputees in the US and 12 million in the world with about 185,000 more amputations occurring every year.” The fit of a prosthetic is important for both function and comfort of the user.

A pipefitter by trade, Bryan began experimenting with his own prosthetic and realized that his invention could benefit many others.

In early 2017, Bryan Costello applied to the competitive and mentor-intensive Central New York Biotech Accelerator (CNYBAC) Medical Device Innovation Challenge (MDIC).  After Review Committee interviews conducted in July, he was one of 7 teams selected to participate in the inaugural 6-month program supported in part by a grant from Empire State Development (ESD).

The timing could not have been better for Bryan’s prosthetic warmer invention.

In late 2016, a collaboration began involving the Kingston Economic Development Corporation, Queen’s University’s Office of Partnerships and Innovation (OPI) and Ontario East, together with the CentreState Corporation for Economic Opportunity, SUNY Upstate Medical University and CNYBAC. At the start of the MDIC program in August 2017, one of the members, Kathi Durdon from CNYBAC, introduced Bryan Costello to Dr. David Hyndman, Associate Director with the Research Partnerships and Regional Innovation Ecosystem Units of Queen’s OPI. Ms. Durdon provided this introduction following her tour of the Queen’s Human Mobility Research Centre (HMRC) and wanted to assess HMRC’s ability to support technology development for Costello Prosthetic Warmers.

“Queen’s has many resources available and one of my responsibilities at the university is to facilitate connections to these resources, including people, and identifying and engaging researchers and technical staff from the university and connecting those who have aligned interests to industry,” says David Hyndman. “I had a number of visits with SUNY Upstate Medical to discuss research and economic development projects. The journey of Costello Prosthetic Warmers is an early example of how successful collaborations and connections can be when the right parties come together.”

Following introductions to Professor Tim Bryant, PhD, P.Eng, and Assistant Professor Claire Davies, P.Eng., in the HMRC regarding a potential working relationship between Mr. Costello and the Department of Materials and Mechanical Engineering (MME) at Queen’s University, a non-disclosure agreement was signed by all parties and discussions around opportunities for support began.

Each year, the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science MME department looks for new opportunities for students to work directly with engineers in industry to solve practical engineering problems. In September 2017, Professor Bryant and Professor Jan Sneep developed a project scoping document to present the needs of Costello Prosthetic Warmers to the Queen’s MME Capstone Design students.

“Queen’s has a really unique ecosystem for companies like Bryan’s. The Capstone program gives students real-world application experience while industry partners receive 350-700 hours of work and a potentially-tested prototype developed by the student design team. We also have resources on campus that are available for the students to use in developing prototypes, such as student-led facilities like SparQ Studios that provide 3D printing and hand tools, as well as faculty-led facilities like the McLaughlin Machine shop,” says Tim Bryant.

Over the course of the 2017-2018 academic year, Bryan Costello worked closely with one of the Capstone program teams to develop a sleeve prototype that can heat the amputated stump, thereby improving comfort and quality of life of the amputee. The Costello heat sleeve is battery operated, lightweight and portable, and is adjustable in order to create a snug fit over the prosthesis or stump.

In early summer of 2018, the Capstone student-developed prototype was tested under extreme conditions. Kirstie Ennis, a retired US Marine Sergeant, has distinguished herself by becoming the first female US veteran above-the-knee amputee to summit Carstensz Pyramid. In 2018, Ms. Ennis attempted a climb of Denali in Alaska, the highest peak in North America. She began the Denali climb using Bryan’s invention, which withstood usage up to 11,000 feet on the journey. Going through such extreme usage and temperatures presented a unique test for Costello Prosthetic Warmers, and provided invaluable information on improvements for the next prototype.

Going forward, Bryan has expressed interest in further prototype development in conjunction with Queen’s and the Human Mobility Research Centre.

“What I would really like is to develop two different types of prosthetic warmers – one for regular use and another for more extreme condition use,” Bryan says about his future plans for his invention.

With strong ties into the Queen’s engineering community, it looks like Bryan is well on his way to seeing these goals materialize.

As for the Office of Partnerships and Innovation, David Hyndman hopes this collaboration will engage more entrepreneurs and researchers in the innovation ecosystem.

“These types of projects are a triple win – the students gain a learning experience, the venture gains labour-hours, ideas, and prototyping for its technology/invention, and they offer the opportunity to foster economic development on both sides of the Canada-US border,” says David.

If you are an entrepreneur with a unique or patentable invention and you are looking to develop a prototype or are looking to expand within the region or into upper New York, please contact David Hyndman at the Queen’s Office of Partnerships and Innovation.