October 3, 2013

Bionic Leg


Scott: It is not everyday we stop to think what life would be like without one of our limbs. But for amputees, that thought is a reality, and advances in science are working to make that reality a little easier to bear. And Shelby Holliday takes a closer look.

Shelby: Four years ago, Zac Vawter lost his lower right leg in a motorcycle accident. After years in a regular prosthetic leg, he has been testing the first one controlled by brainwaves.

Zac Vawter: I seamlessly walk up to a set of stairs and just go up foot-over-foot up the stairs, like you do. Whereas with my normal prosthetic, I kind of have to drag it behind me as I go up the stairs.

Shelby: It is called the ‘bionic leg’ because of its ability to interact intelligently with a human. So how exactly does it work? When a person thinks about moving, a signal is sent from the brain down through the spinal cord. These impulses control the muscles. After an amputation, the muscles are no longer there but the nerves are. So Zac underwent surgery to move these nerves down to his hamstrings. Sensors in the new leg relay these nerve signals to a computer, which instructs the knee and ankle how to move.

Levi Hargrove: We’ve rewired him.

Shelby: Research scientist Levi Hargrove and a team at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago came up with the device.

Hargrove: So, you just think about moving along, the device pushes you along, pushes you up stairs, helps control you when you walk down stairs, and it does everything in a seamless manner.

Zac: It really blew my mind the first time that we did that. It was a pretty amazing experience because I hadn’t moved my ankle in a way that I could see for two years, or whatever it was.

Shelby: Zac is the first person to control a prosthetic leg using his brain, but many more could soon follow in his footsteps.

There are more than 1 million Americans living with amputations, including about 1,600 soldiers who lost at least one limb serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. To address these life-limiting injuries, the U.S. Army funded the research for this new bionic leg.

Hargrove: We’re really trying to make these advanced devices that will allow them to get back to active duty or, later in life, allow them to move around their home and remain independent longer. That’s one of the primary goals of this research.

Shelby: In 3-5 years, more people could be able to get this new leg. And with each step Zac takes, researchers grow closer to reaching that goal.

Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.

Scott: And when you think of ‘bionic,’ you might think of ‘super strong.’ Well, scientists say that is not the case. It is more about being super smart.


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