By Tara Mogan
Anyone tracking the newest advancements in prosthetics is familiar with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Since 1958, DARPA has introduced ingenious technologies for the U.S. military, to include prosthetic devices for wounded warriors.
Much has been invested in lower-limb prosthetics, enabling many service members to return to duty. DARPA recognized a need for advanced upper-limb prosthetic options and invested $153 million in the 2006 launch of its Revolutionized Prosthetics program.
Among the many gadgets, gizmos, droids and drones produced, DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program funded development of the modular prosthetic limb (MPL). Built at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), the MPL was first used by combat amputees in 2012 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC).
The life-like prosthetic features the dexterity of a natural limb, controlled by surface electrodes triggered by human thought. The limb reads signals from the spinal cord, allowing the user to open and close the robotic hand, move fingers independently, and move the arm with 22 degrees of motion.
Dr. Justin Sanchez describes the revolutionary device as providing “near natural control, much like your own arm.” Sanchez is the director of the DARPA Biological Technologies Office, the same office developing brain implants with hopes of recovering memory loss for service members suffering from the effects of traumatic brain injury.
TSgt Joe Delauriers was the first patient to use the MPL device. Delauriers lost both legs and his left arm to an IED explosion while serving in Afghanistan in 2011. Within a year, he was able to drive a car, live off base, and hold his infant son, thanks to advanced medical technology and rehabilitation therapy.
The next phase of development for the MPL is to incorporate the sense of touch.
Sources: * http://www.research.va.gov/topics/prosthetics.cfm * http://www.prosthetics.va.gov/psas/OandP.asp * http://www.businessinsider.com/darpa-projects-demo-day-2016-2016-5 * http://www.usmedicine.com/agencies/department-of-defense-dod/military-develops-new-prosthetic-devices-controlled-by-brain-signals/ * http://www.rehab.va.gov/psas/index.asp * http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=65123