Sunday, May 13, 2007

Scientific team delivers advanced prosthetic prototype

A couple weeks ago, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory issued this press release detailing the delivery of the first prosthetic prototype developed by the Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009 team. The project is underwritten by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program with a goal of providing state of the art prosthetics for military personnel who have suffered limb loss in the line of duty. From the APL release:

An international team led by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., has developed a prototype of the first fully integrated prosthetic arm that can be controlled naturally, provide sensory feedback and allows for eight degrees of freedom—a level of control far beyond the current state of the art for prosthetic limbs...

... The advanced degree of natural control and integrated sensory feedback demonstrated with Proto 1 are enabled by Targeted Muscle Reinnervation (TMR), a technique pioneered by Dr. Todd Kuiken at RIC that involves the transfer of residual nerves from an amputated limb to unused muscle regions in appropriate proximity to the injury. In this case, the nerves were transferred to the pectoral area of the patient’s chest. This procedure provides for a more intuitive use of a prosthetic arm and allows for the natural sensation of grip strength and touch.

During clinical evaluation of the limb at RIC, Jesse Sullivan, a patient of Dr. Kuiken, demonstrated substantial improvements in functional testing, such as the ability to reposition his thumb for different grips, remove a credit card from a pocket, stack cups while controlling his grip force using sensory feedback verses vision, and to walk using the free swing mode of the limb for a more natural gait. Harshbarger says that critical to Proto 1’s development was closely working with patients such as Sullivan to help the team understand the attributes patients look for in new prosthetic limbs. The limb system also includes a natural-looking artificial covering that was created using photographs of the patient’s native limb taken before the accident.

Military innovations have often found their way into commercial products. This is certainly a worthwhile undertaking on behalf of injured soldiers and I hope whatever breakthroughs come as a result are made available for commercial development so civilians with limb deficiency and loss can benefit as well.

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