Looking at the future
I'm really interested in the many changes in prosthetics as the military invests in tools to help support soldiers who lost limbs in Iraq or Afghanistan. When Jordan was very young, I reached out to a researcher named Todd Kuiken who was working on bionics in Chicago. He told me that he was certain prosthetics would be completely different and more useful for civilians by the time Jordan is an adult. He wasn't interested in working with babies and children. (Boo.)
In the meantime, he was right. Upper limb prosthetics are amazing and changing rapidly. Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a Medical Device Innovation Initiative. The first submission in this new effort is a brain-controlled upper limb prosthetics. It's something I always thought would be best tested on children while their brains are still very able to "understand" the mechanics of functioning limbs... even if they need to do it differently. Either way, I'm fascinated with what they're doing at Johns Hopkins. (That's the organization that released this photo of the hand with the football.) I enjoyed this article in Time Magazine about the project.
Here's a quote about what researchers are working on:
"The FDA has accepted its first submission from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to review a brain-controlled, upper-extremity prosthetic designed to restore near-natural arm, hand and finger function to patients suffering from spinal cord injury, stroke or amputation. The arm system uses a microchip implanted on the surface of the brain to record neuronal activity and decode the signals to actuate motor neurons that control the prosthesis. DARPA and the FDA have signed a Memorandum of Understanding addressing both the development and review of this project."
You can read the FDA's full news release and watch a couple of videos online.
In the meantime, here's a prosthetic that caught my eye while I was at work a month or so ago — it's a tenticle-like hand! A University of Wisconsin industrial design student, Kaylene Kau came up with this idea during her senior year. It looks like a tentacle and it gives you all kinds of flexibility to grab and reach and hold. I'm fascinated by the idea. It looks kind of strange, but I don't care about strange, I care about helpful. You can see all of the images of her design on Kau's portfolio page.
I enjoy this image that shows a couple of ways the tentacle can be used and the image that explains the design.
Kau told journalists she was unable to find a company to market the design. The idea came about when her instructor challenged the class to think outside the box for prosthetics. I think this is as out of the box as I can imagine! She explained her vision to KOMO news in the video below:
Currently, the future of now is the iLimb. I followed Darin Sargent while he documented his life with an iLimb a couple of years ago. It was really cool to see a person who was born with a congenital limb difference use a tool that's considered one of the best myoelectric options in prosthetics. Then I met Carly Davis online and have seen the success she's had with the iLimb. If you're curious how an iLimb works, you can watch the video below. These aren't tools made for children, they're made for adults who do not need a new prosthetic every year due to growth. These are incredibly expensive tools.