USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION
HEALTH & HEALING
approved, any American in need of an artificial limb can benefit. That has been the case with the DEKA Arm System, a state-of-the-art prosthesis. About three dozen veterans participated in the research for that system, which was developed by the New Hampshire-based DEKA Research & Development Corporation, through funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Designed by Segway creator and DEKA president Dean Kamen, the arm uses a series of sensors and switches that give patients six different grips. Joints allow for several movements to occur simultaneously, so amputees can do near-natural actions that weren’t possible with other prostheses, such as turning a key in a lock, holding a tube of toothpaste or gripping anything from a grape to a glass — all through a wireless control system. The yearslong study resulted in the bionic Life Under Kinetic Evolution, or LUKE Arm, which is now commercially available through Mobius Bionics. The prosthesis was named, in part, for the bionic limb Luke Skywalker sports after losing his hand in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. Fred Downs and Artie McAuley, Vietnam War vets who’d each lost all or part of an arm, were the first two veterans fitted with the LUKE arm earlier this year, restoring essential functionality. “I think that’s a good example of how the VA partners not just with the (Defense Department), but also other manufacturers or private industry,” Webster said. Other ongoing VA partnerships include: efforts to restore sensation through prosthetic hands using research from DEKA, Medtronic and numerous universi-
The DEKA Arm System, an advanced robotic prosthesis, can carry out multiple, simultaneous, powered movements, giving the wearer advanced control.
ties; testing new cooling prosthetic sockets that ease discomfort and skin irritation with Vivonics; and developing 3-D printed metal prosthetic fingers with SynTouch, the Alfred Mann Foundation, and others, according to VA officials. McGuire recently had his ninth checkup as part of the yearlong VA study for the POP implant. His 10th and final one is scheduled for December, and if the FDA approves the device, more veterans and civilians could soon swap their prosthetic sockets for new limbs that attach directly to their bodies. Because the study is ongoing, there’s no set time frame for the final FDA approval, but it’s likely several years away, Webster said. The next phase of the research is expected to involve 50 to 60 participants, he added. Webster, who helped get McGuire into the study, said he couldn’t comment further on the ongoing research. But added that the other veterans involved have also seen positive results.
Prostheses advancements have proved promising, but Webster said amputees still face a lot of challenges. “JP is a good example of someone who’s been able to get back to doing most of the CO N T I N U E D
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY MATTHEW BREITBART/NATIONAL MUSEUM OF HEALTH AND MEDICINE