Tracing Breakthroughs in Prosthetic Limbs


In this week’s 60 Minutes, correspondent Scott Pelley reports on prosthetic innovation. It’s a theme he’s been following on air for over a decade.

To show the progress of prosthetic technology, it’s helpful to see where it started. For decades, prosthetic limbs were little different than those given to soldiers returning from World War II, but that began to change when he announced in 2006 that the Pentagon had announced his $100 million It’s time to launch the project. Revolutionizing prosthetic limbs.

Perry first reported on the project in 2009. At the time, he interviewed engineer and inventor Dean Kamen. Dean His Kamen’s inventions at the time included the Segway and dozens of medical devices. After Kamen joined a project for the Department of Defense, he and his team of engineers spent a year on the problem of innovating a prosthetic hand. Kamen quickly realized it was a big undertaking. He explained to Perry that the human hand is a very complex machine.

“What was the hardest part of this engineering-wise?” Perry asked Kamen in 2009, and Kamen replied, “Everything.”

US Army Veterans Fred Downs and Artie Macauley at the Gait and Exercise Laboratory at the Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Health Care System June 30, 2017 in New York.

Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

At the time, the new prosthetic hands were controlled by the user bending their shoulders and pressing a button built into the shoe. One of the people who tested the invention Fred Downes, Director of Prosthetic Legs for the Veterans Health Administration. Until then, he had been wearing the same standard prosthetic hand since he stepped on a landmine in Vietnam in 1968.

The technology was revolutionary. However, he told Perry that he was suspicious at first.

“I’m very skeptical,” Downs said in 2009. It really works because your body is only very resistant to gadgets. “

The ultimate goal of this project was to finally find a way to connect the robot directly to the brain. As Perry reported in his 2012 broadcast, that breakthrough came years later.

he met a woman named Jan SchuermannMother of two from Pittsburgh. She developed a genetic disease called spinocerebellar degeneration that disrupted the connection between her brain and body. Scheurmann could only move her facial and neck muscles when she signed up for an experimental treatment at the University of Pittsburgh. There, doctors and scientists were also working with Department of Defense projects.

Quadriplegic Jan Scheuermann uses a thought-guided robotic arm to bring chocolate bars to his mouth.
Quadriplegic Jan Scheuermann uses a thought-guided robotic arm to bring chocolate bars to his mouth.


In experimental surgery, two sensor arrays, each the size of a pea, were implanted on the surface of Scheurmann’s brain. It was then wired to her two computer connections called pedestals. Within months, Scheurmann was able to control the robotic arm with just his thoughts.

Yet 11 years ago, technology had its limits. Scheurmann was able to close and close the robot’s fists, but had difficulty grasping objects, even when looking straight at them.

Today, the technology has advanced even further. Now, spinal cord injury and amputees can not only control prosthetic limbs with their heads, including grasping objects, but advanced prosthetic limbs can also bring touch back to the brain.

Perry met Brandon Prestwood, who lost his hand in an industrial accident in 2012. Her prosthetic limb was connected to a computer and to the muscles and nerves in her arm, and these connections gave her hand motor control and restored her sense of touch. .

“That’s my finger,” Prestwood told Perry. “I feel my fingers that I don’t have anymore. I feel them.”

Scott Imbrie, a project volunteer at the University of Chicago, has limited movement and sense of touch due to a spinal cord injury from a car accident. Now a port in his skull communicates his brain’s intentions to a robotic arm. Sensors in the robotic hand then send tactile sensations back to the brain.

Computer ports in Scott Imbrie’s skull are wired to the motor and sensory parts of his brain.

60 minutes

However, today’s technology has the potential to provide maximum independence without the use of a prosthetic leg at all.

Austin Begin became a quadriplegic after jumping into an underwater sandbar while on vacation celebrating his college graduation. Like Imbry, he has a port in his skull that leads to his brain.

But unlike Imbrie, the motor control signals are sent to his own arm, not the robotic arm. Sensors on the inside of the arm stimulate muscles to bypass the damaged spine. This allowed Begin to do things he couldn’t do for years. It’s about shaking hands with his father.

“All I’ve ever wanted to do is shake someone’s hand and say ‘Hello.’ Simply say hello,” Begin said. “But getting the chance to do it with my dad was like saying, ‘Thank you for sticking this out with me.'”

The video above was produced by Brit McCandless Farmer and Will Croxton. Edited by Will Croxton.


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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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