The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), the leading physical medicine and rehabilitation hospital in the country, has introduced Claudia Mitchell, the first woman to be successfully fit with RIC's original Bionic Arm technology. The most advanced prosthesis of its kind, the RIC neuro-controlled Bionic Arm allows an amputee to move his or her prosthetic arm as if it is a real limb simply by thinking. The arm also empowers patients with more natural movement, greater range of motion and restores lost function.
The technology was developed by Todd Kuiken, M.D., Ph.D., director of RIC's Neural Engineering Center for Bionic Medicine, and a team of leading rehabilitation experts with the support of grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
"It is so rewarding for me as a physician and a scientist to lead research with the potential to positively impact the lives of amputees, including our U.S. service men and women," said Dr. Kuiken. "On behalf of RIC, my team and I consider it a great honor to be able to serve our country and the individuals with disabilities around the world in this way."
To provide the neuro-controlled movement of RIC's Bionic Arm technology, nerves located in the amputee's shoulder, which once went to the amputated arm, are re-routed and connected to healthy muscle in the chest. This surgical process is called targeted muscle reinnervation. The muscle reinnervation procedure allows the re-routed nerves to grow into the chest muscle and direct the signals they once sent to the amputated arm instead to the robotic arm via surface electrodes. Then, when the patient thinks about moving his or her arm, the action is carried out as voluntarily as it would be in a healthy arm allowing for smoother and easier movement of the prosthetic.
In other words, the sensation nerves to the hand have been re-routed to a patch of skin on her chest. Now when Ms. Mitchell is touched on this skin, she feels that her hand is being touched. This will eventually let her 'feel' what she is touching with an artificial hand, as if she were touching it with her own hand.
Currently available artificial arms have only up to three motors. RIC's revolutionary Bionic Arm technology includes a six-motor arm developed in collaboration with researchers around the world. With a six-motor arm, patients have greater motion in the shoulder and forearm and are able to use several parts of the prosthesis simultaneously to produce the more natural arm movements. Using key learnings from the first successful Bionic Arm recipient, former power lineman and double amputee from Tennessee, Jesse Sullivan, Dr. Kuiken and his team also have made significant advancements in the area of sensory feedback so that the patient can actually feel if they are touching hot or cold objects.
Ms. Mitchell, of Ellicott City, Maryland, is a former U.S. Marine Corps officer whose left arm was severed at the scene of a motorcycle accident in 2004. After reading about Mr. Sullivan in a magazine, Ms. Mitchell undertook her own research and was put in touch with Dr. Kuiken. After an evaluation by Dr. Kuiken and his staff, she was found to be a strong candidate and successfully underwent the surgery in 2005.
"RIC is proud to play such a significant role in changing the face of research and advancing technology to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities throughout the world," said Joanne C. Smith, M.D., interim president and CEO of RIC.
Because of the Bionic Arm, Ms. Mitchell has been able to live a more functional and fulfilling life. She is able to give to her passion, the U.S. Marine Corps, through mentoring junior officers and making regular visits to veterans in the amputee units at the National Naval Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Through her volunteer efforts, she shares her message of personal gratitude and hope to troops who have returned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Before the surgery, I doubted that I would ever be able to get my life back," said Ms. Mitchell. "But this arm and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago have allowed me to return to a life that is more rewarding and active than I ever could have imagined. I am happy, confident and independent. As a military veteran, I am also hopeful that the Bionic Arm technology may provide benefits to amputees returning from war."
To date, more than 400 amputee patients who have served in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been treated in Army hospitals. RIC's Bionic Arm technology has the potential to benefit these amputees returning from war.
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