Revolution in Prosthetics’ reports advancements, future of prosthetics

NATIONAL HARBOR. Md. — He sprints to the cone, piv­ots tight as a pin 90 degrees to the right and he’s off again. He churns his heels into the ground and pumps his arms as he races to the next cone, then drops to the ground and pumps out a dozen or so pushups before he’s up and run­ning again.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s “neu­ral­ly inte­grat­ed” Mod­u­lar Pros­thet­ic Limb will allow amputees to con­trol move­ments direct­ly with their thoughts — just like a real arm.
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War­rant Offi­cer Johnathan Holsey takes part in the first ever War­rior Games in Col­orado Springs, Colo., May 14, 2010, where he par­tic­i­pat­ed in the 200-meter dash, 400-meter dash and cycling events.
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The run­ner looks like a five-star foot­ball recruit try­ing out for the NFL, not a wound­ed war­rior show­ing off his new ankle. But thanks to rev­o­lu­tion­ary advances in pros­thet­ics, the Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom vet­er­an was declared fit for duty and returned to service. 

He’s just one of the many suc­cess sto­ries shared in videos at the “Rev­o­lu­tion in Pros­thet­ics” ses­sion Jan. 31, 2012 dur­ing the Mil­i­tary Health Sys­tem Con­fer­ence held from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2 at the Gay­lord Nation­al Hotel and Con­ven­tion Cen­ter at Nation­al Har­bor, Md. Civil­ian researchers and Army physi­cians gath­ered at the ses­sions to dis­cuss the progress and future of pros­thet­ics for wound­ed warriors. 

Mike McCough­lin, pro­gram man­ag­er at the John Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty Applied Physics Lab, or APL, described the Mod­u­lar Pros­thet­ic Limb, devel­oped by the APL and almost 30 oth­er orga­ni­za­tions. The arm, fund­ed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing Pros­thet­ics project, has 26 degrees of free­dom and near human-like dex­ter­i­ty. It allows wear­ers to shov­el snow, throw a ball, golf, put on a sock, play the trum­pet, car­ry heavy bags and even cook. 

“The abil­i­ty to turn the wrist 180 degrees real­ly gets their atten­tion,” said McCough­lin, as the video showed an amputee deft­ly dump­ing a cup of flour into a bowl. 

Recent devel­op­ments with the arm include “neur­al inte­gra­tion,” using small sur­gi­cal­ly implant­ed wire­less devices — allow­ing the user to direct­ly con­trol the arm with his or her thoughts, just like a real arm. The arm is cur­rent­ly mov­ing through the FDA approval process. 

It enabled one amputee to reach out and hold the hand of his girl­friend for the first time in sev­en years since his motor­cy­cle crash. 

The researchers have also made great strides devel­op­ing braces for patients with func­tion­al limb loss, like a fused ankle — includ­ing bet­ter gen­er­a­tion of pow­er and shock absorp­tion. The devices turn limpers into run­ners, jog­gers into sprint­ers and even allow some wound­ed ser­vice mem­bers to return to active duty. 

“Pub­lished lit­er­a­ture says you can’t run with a fused ankle, but these guys prove us wrong,” said Col. James Ficke, chair­man of Brooke Army Med­ical Cen­ter, or BAMC, Depart­ment of Orthopaedics and Reha­bil­i­ta­tion at Fort Sam Hous­ton, Texas. “It’s not the brace, it’s the human attached to the brace.” 

The pre­sen­ters also empha­sized the suc­cess of ampu­ta­tion ver­sus limb sal­vage. Twen­ty-two per­cent of amputees return to duty and expe­ri­ence less emo­tion­al dis­tress than limb sal­vage patients. Thanks to a rev­o­lu­tion in pros­thet­ics, patients have bet­ter out­comes with ampu­ta­tion as opposed to reconstruction. 

Ficke also high­light­ed the cama­raderie and com­pet­i­tive­ness of amputees, burn vic­tims and oth­er dis­abled vet­er­ans at the Cen­ter for the Intre­pid, BAMC’s pre­miere research and reha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ter for Wound­ed Warriors. 

“The (San Anto­nio) Spurs come to play wheel­chair bas­ket­ball with the patients and they stay until they win a game,” he said. 

For every 30 ser­vice mem­bers return­ing from Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom and Oper­a­tion Endur­ing Free­dom, one is an amputee. Just since Jan. 1, 1,421 amputees have returned. 

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s goal is to cre­ate a ful­ly func­tion­ing, in terms of both motor and sen­so­ry abil­i­ties, upper limb that responds to direct neur­al con­trol with­in the next decade. 

U.S. Army 

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