Science-fiction became reality for one amputee when doctors were able to create a prosthesis that “read” his mind.
Zac Vawter, 31, lost his right leg above the knee following a motorcycle crash in 2009. But for the past three years, doctors have been working to engineer a new leg for Vawter that can read signals sent from his brain and allow him to control his prosthesis similar to the way he would direct his original leg.
Doctors started by placing electrodes on Vawter’s leg to study signals that could be sent to the prosthetic leg from his brain. Now after years of refining and engineering, the prosthetic leg can “read” signals through electrodes that decode commands from a bundle of nerves above Vawter’s knee.
According to a case study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Vawter can walk up a ramp, switch to stairs and even kick a soccer ball simply by thinking about what he wants his leg to do.
The prosthetic leg weighs a little more than 10 pounds and has two motors to help Vawter control his movements. In 2012 Vawter climbed the 108 floors of the Wills Tower in Chicago on his new prosthetic leg.
Researchers hope that Vawter’s prosthetic is just the beginning of a new kind of prosthesis that will allow amputees to control their new limbs with the same precision and ease as their original limbs.