‘Bionic’ arm gives amputee sense of touch

The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) announced at a press conference today that it is pursuing advancements in engineering and neuroscience technology which have the opportunity to transform the lives of millions of people within the next five years suffering from paralysis, major consequences of stroke, amputation and limb loss.

In a demonstration of one of these breakthroughs, the Institute unveiled the world’s first “bionic man” showcasing his bionic arm which is the most advanced prosthesis of its kind today based on its precise, thought-powered movement and its greatest range of motion. The RIC also announced the donation of a $5 million gift from the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust to establish the Searle Program for Neurological Restoration, which will oversee progress to help achieve these breakthroughs.

“The Searle family was a vital founding donor of RIC fifty years ago, because they recognized the enormous impact our medical research could have to transform people’s lives,” said Dr. Zev Rymer, director of research at RIC and leader of the Searle Program for Neurological Restoration. “Today, RIC is again on the verge of even greater kinds of advancements than were possible when the Searle Rehabilitation Research Center was first established. The generous contributions of the Searles over these past years and today will help achieve these critical discoveries for broad use within just a few years.”

RIC Neurological Breakthroughs and Bionic Man

The Next Five Years: RIC’s Neural Technology Advancements
RIC researchers of neural engineering are working on three breakthrough technologies in the areas of the brain/machine interface, brain magnetic simulation and thought-powered prosthetics, all of which will be linked to critical functions of the central nervous system.

Over the next 5 years, RIC will advance its work with brain-machine interface technology which re-maps brain impulses in order to record signals from the brain and relay them to mechanical devices allowing users to perform critical functions with computers, robotics devices and wheelchairs. These innovations will grant increased freedoms to more than 480,000 patients in the U.S. who cannot function independently due to paralysis from spinal cord injury or Lou Gehrig’s disease. In addition, in collaboration with industrial partners, RIC also will establish a new protocol to develop use of non-invasive magnetic stimulation of the brain in order to help stroke survivors regain function. This will be invaluable to the nation’s more than 700,000 victims who suffer from major complications from stroke a year.

In addition to paralysis and stroke, the RIC has made enormous strides in the area of amputee care, with the development of the world’s first thought-powered “bionic man.” The continuing progression and the new second generation of his thought-powered “bionic-arm,” makes it the most advanced prosthetic in the world today requiring its wearer only to think about what he wants his arm to do and his prosthesis will do the job. The “bionic-arm” was developed with the help of Jesse Sullivan, a Tennessee power company worker who lost both of his arms above the shoulder in a work related accident in 2001. Dr. Todd Kuiken at RIC developed a procedure to graft Mr. Sullivan’s amputated nerve endings from his shoulder onto the pectoral muscle in his chest. As those nerves grew to innervate the chest muscles, the electrodes located over the graft began to pick up electrical signals reflecting the impulses and transmitting those to the mechanical prosthesis. The second generation of the “bionic-arm” revealed today provides Sullivan with greater function, movement and spontaneous control while its third generation will incorporate the sense of touch and feeling by next year.

More than 567 U.S. service men and women have returned to the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan as amputees. The “bionic-arm” developed by Dr. Todd Kuiken at RIC could provide tremendous benefit for those injured in war. “RIC is excited about the unmistakable potential our research has to help the U.S. military personnel returning from war after suffering amputation,” said Kuiken, medical director of RIC’s Amputee Programs. “In fact, we are actively engaged in a proposal process to revolutionize prosthetics with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the U.S. Department of Defense.”

RIC Neurological Breakthroughs and Bionic Man

Searle Foundation Gift
The Searle family has been committed to rehabilitation and neurological restoration since before RIC existed and John D. Searle contributed to the founding of RIC in 1952. It was the family’s generosity that established the Searle Rehabilitation Research Program at RIC. More than fifty years later, the Searle family is carrying on his legacy to establish the Searle Program for Neurological Restoration. This grant comes at a critical time in our nation’s history where there are a growing number of stroke survivors, amputees, spinal cord injuries and returning war service men and women that will benefit from the impending breakthroughs.

“The Searle family is committed to research that transforms lives. After years of study, RIC is today on the cusp of achieving breakthrough treatments and cures in neural engineering for a host of different impairments, including spinal cord injury, major consequences from stroke and amputation,” said Wes Dixon, former chairman of the board of RIC and Searle family member. “We are honored that the $5 million contributed by the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust to establish the Searle Program for Neurological Restoration will help to bring these critical advances over the finish line to help millions, including of course disabled service men and women to whom all Americans are so indebted.”

About The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago is dedicated to helping people with all levels and types of physical disabilities regain or improve their physical functions and empowering them to participate more fully in family, social, vocational and leisure time pursuits. The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago has been ranked the “Best Rehabilitation Hospital in America” every year since 1991. For more information visit www.ric.org

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