Out on a Limb

Out on a Limb

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 8:00pm

Pictured: a prosthetic hand 

Credit: Courtesy of outonalimbdocumentary.com 

From Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab and other leading universities, to the Amputee Coalition's camp for kids, what was once futuristic is occurring now and changing what it means to lose a limb.

Out on a Limb, airing Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV, explores the evolution of prosthetics and the exciting advances being made at the intersection of neuroscience, engineering, and robotics. 

Advances in prosthetics always coincide with wars, but recent conflicts have spurred unprecedented funding, including the "Revolutionizing Prosthetics" project committed to the design of an entirely new type of robotic arm. At the same time breakthroughs in neuro-engineering, such as Targeted Muscle Innervation, allow amputees to control these prosthetics with their thoughts alone.

Soldiers receive the most media attention and the most advanced prosthetics, but they are a fraction of the many millions who have lost limbs to diabetes, other diseases, landmines, and natural disasters. In fact amputees are all around us.

Sometimes advances in the field come from amputees themselves. One of them is Van Phillips. Years ago he threw away his own first prosthetic foot as well as the conventional dogma of the day that a prosthetic foot should look like a foot. Studying how animals run and the dynamics of motion, he invented the Flex-Foot, a simple shape made of carbon graphite that revolutionized prosthetic foot design. His "Cheetah foot" caused controversy, when some claimed it would give Oscar Pistorius, the first amputee to run in the Olympics, an advantage over normal limbed runners.

Van recalls that when he was a boy, he thought all amputees must be homeless men because they were the only ones he ever saw-- with their rolled up pants and peg legs. Now many amputees have come out of hiding, in large part due to the new technology. A generation that grew up on Playstations and computers operates these newer prosthetics easily and proudly and is ready for what's coming next.

Out on a Limb reveals just what that is, what's on the horizon, and what's beyond. A science story and a human story, this documentary shows the impact of this transformative science, as revolutionary prosthetics move from the lab to the bodies of amputees, and particularly to children with limb loss, who stand to benefit the most.

Out on a Limb is part of Move to Include programming on WXXI-TV, a partnership between WXXI and the Golisano Foundation designed to promote inclusion for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. Special programming includes prime-time specials, children's programs, and news stories. Watch the movie and then share your thoughts with us by taking our survey at www.movetoinclude.org.