Walter Reed, DARPA Pushing Prosthetic Horizon

Walter Reed, DARPA Pushing Prosthetic Horizon
28 Aug 2017

Recent componentry breakthroughs like those discussed on this website give testimony to new efforts to develop markedly improved prosthetic solutions for people with congenital and acquired limb deficiencies. As encouraging as these new systems might be, two major research initiatives now underway suggest, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

One program has evolved from efforts to provide a new level of restored function to military personnel who have lost a limb in the ongoing U.S. campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most of these typically young and vital men and women are treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC), an acknowledged world leader in amputee rehabilitation.

WRAMC’s determination to carry out a grateful nation’s desire to provide the maximum possible rehabilitation to more than 300 combat amputees is contributing valuable new insights into the management of younger men and women with a traumatic limb loss. This growing body of knowledge, dubbed the “Walter Reed Experience,” will likely influence amputee care in both military and civilian sectors for years to come.

  •  For example, lower-limb amputees are routinely evaluated at the center’s gait laboratory to analyze and optimize their prosthetic ambulation. Their outcomes could conceivably help justify Medicare and private insurance coverage of computerized gait analysis, currently not reimbursed in most instances. Walter Reed clinicians have found gait and motion analysis particularly helpful for making component choices and as an educational tool for both patients and rehab team members.
  •  Another finding reveals that a microprocessor knee system such as the C-Leg can be used throughout a new above-knee amputee’s progression from initial prosthetic intervention to final definitive prosthesis, saving weeks of lost time and progress while adjusting to periodic applications of sequentially more capable knee units as the patient becomes stronger and more functional. The microprocessor knee system can be programmed to accommodate the user’s abilities at any stage of rehabilitation.
  •  Upper-extremity amputees, who generally require a period of postoperative healing before prosthetic application, are being prepared for rehabilitation by early identification of myoelectric control sites on intact muscles in the residual limb, which the recovering patient is trained to use through video games. In learning to generate the right electromyographic signals to operate the games, amputees thus become ready to control a myoelectric prosthesis when cleared to do so, while enjoying a therapeutic, competitive activity.


Meanwhile, the Defense Advance Research Products Agency (DARPA) has launched a major drive to produce a better prosthetic arm for soldier amputees, and ultimately civilians as well.

In a two-phase, four-year $70 million program, DARPA is involving leading engineers, prosthesis developers, neuroscientists and others to develop a replacement limb that is:

  •  highly functional (capable of 22 independent movements as compared with a maximum of three in today’s prosthetic arms);
  •  lightweight (weighing no more than a typical human arm);
  •  “sensitive” to pressure, heat and cold; and
  •  “aware” of where it is in space.

Lofty ambitions? Perhaps, but this is the same country whose innovation put a man on the moon within eight years of its first manned space flight. With the proper attention and resources now being devoted to the effort, don’t be surprised at what might develop.

When you want the latest in prosthetic assembly and innovation in Texas, look no further than the professionals at LeTourneau Prosthetics. We have offices in Beaumont, Nederland and Jasper, TX. Your initial consultation is free.

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