Sophomore entrepreneurship minor develops prosthesis to eliminate phantom pain in amputees

There's something very special about a young, energetic and determined person with a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit who wants to make her world better. There's something very special about Katherine Bomkamp.

An entrepreneurship minor and one of those students you sometimes meet that is wise beyond her years, Katherine has been named one of Glamour magazine's 21 Amazing Young Women this year for her development of the "Pain Free Socket," a prosthetic device designed to alleviate phantom pain in millions of amputees around the globe. Glamour recognized her at the magazine's 21st Annual Women of the Year Awards on November 7 at New York City's Carnegie Hall.

A 20-year-old from Waldorf, Md., Katherine was deeply moved by what she witnessed the first time she visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center with her dad, a 20-year member of the U.S. Air Force. She was 16 at the time — a 10th-grader — and it proved to be life-changing.

"There were all of these very young amputees returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and they weren't a lot older than me at the time — maybe 18 or 19 years old," said Katherine. "They were sitting in the waiting rooms, and I learned that many amputees were experiencing phantom pain."

Phantom pain is the feeling of pain in an absent limb, and Katherine decided to focus her research on finding a solution.

"It's caused by the brain when it automatically sends signals to a limb to move. Those signals get caught in the severed nerve endings, and that causes the pain," she said. "It affects 80 percent of the 10 million amputees in the world."

And the situation was even further complicated for amputees, Katherine said, because no medications had been approved for specifically treating phantom pain. In fact, she said, most amputees are prescribed antipsychotics and barbiturates, drugs that can be expensive and highly addictive.

So for her 10th grade science project, Katherine created the Pain Free Socket, a device that incorporates thermal-bio feedback into prosthetics to eliminate phantom pain in amputees. In other words, the device uses heat to force the brain to focus on high temperatures rather than send signals to a limb that really isn't there anymore.

Her work has earned the political science major a number of awards, including being the first WVU student to be inducted into the National Museum of Education's National Gallery for America's Young Inventors.

With the help of WVU's Entrepreneurship Center, housed within the College of Business and Economics, Katherine is working to commercialize her invention and make it available to those who so desperately need it. She has applied for a patent for the Pain Free Socket.

And we cannot forget about the fun side of being at the Glamour awards, where Katherine met Condoleezza Rice, her idol; singer/actress Jennifer Lopez and Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post, two of the magazine's women of the year; and actress Emma Stone.

"It was fantastic being there with so many highly regarded and fascinating women," she said. "It was truly an unbelievable honor."

From the beginning, Katherine Bomkamp has been focused on helping those men and women she encountered at Walter Reed. "I've dedicated about four years of my life to this project and the people I hope it will help," she said. "I am very appreciative of everything WVU has done to support me and this project."

After earning her bachelor's degree, Katherine has her sights set on law school. Her dream job is to work for Apple or Google. With Katherine, it's safe to say that the sky's the limit.