Improvements in training, body armor, and medical evacuation and care have saved lives in combat, but many of the wounds received during operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in amputations. Begun in 2006, DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program set out to expand prosthetic arm options for today’s wounded warriors. The program funded two teams to create advanced anthropomorphic mechanical arms and control systems; one to get an arm control system to market quickly, the other to determine the viability of direct brain control.
In September, one of the DARPA-funded advanced mechanical arms was controlled by a volunteer with tetraplegia via his brain signals recorded by electrocorticography (ECoG); the first-ever accomplishment of prosthetic arm control with this modality by an individual with a disability. The neuroprosthetic effort, funded by the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health (NIH/NINDS), the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (Pitt), used the Modular Prosthetic Limb (MPL) built by a team managed by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md, for DARPA.
The UPMC/Pitt effort sets the stage for the next two years, when DARPA- funded researchers at UPMC and Caltech will conduct pre-clinical trials seeking to achieve brain control of advanced mechanical limbs by five spinal cord-injured volunteers in DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program.
The FDA has created an Innovation Pathway Initiative for priority review of breakthrough medical devices and designated their pilot program to be the direct brain-control effort, managed by APL.
According to U.S. Army COL Geoffrey Ling, “This extensive interagency collaboration ensures rapid sharing of innovation and enables faster advances for the deserving warfighter.”