New Treatments for Amputation Injuries
Amputation injuries are life-changing. The amputation of an arm, leg, hand, or foot will automatically lead to some, if not all, loss of function. Many victims will need to relearn skills or require prosthetics or assistive technology in order to live any kind of “normal” life. For many victims who lose a limb or an appendage, the surgeries and therapy are just the beginning of their trauma. Most amputation victims require extensive psychological help in order to cope with their disfigurement.
The good news is that researchers are constantly working on better prosthetics and assistive devices. Some technology helps accident victims recover abilities that never seemed possible.
According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), 185,000 people have an amputation each year and 2.1 million Americans are living with a limb loss. However, there are some exciting recent advancements in prosthetics that may help.
Consciously controlled limb prostheses
Per ASME, the accident victim controls the movement of the prosthetic and may even experience the sensation of touch. The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published a study by Swedish researchers studying seven patients who were fitted “a bone-anchored, self-contained robotic arm with both sensory and motor components over 3 to 7 years in four patients after transhumeral amputation.”
The prosthetic works by implanting electrodes in the muscles and nerves of the amputated arm. An electrical interface is created by the use of a connector which is embedded in the end of a screw. Per ASME, “Neuromuscular electrodes within the implant electrically interface with the sensors in the body to create a connection” through a control system placed in the prosthesis, and “sensory input from the prosthesis is transmitted back to the person as it would from the missing limb.” The net result is that the patient can control movement through just their mind. Furthermore, a number of patients actually experienced some sensation, which the NEJM described this way:
Sensations elicited through direct nerve stimulation were referred to the phantom hand in all patients. The sensations were described as being similar to a “touch by the tip of a pen” and gradually acquired a more “electric” character at higher intensity, with increased pulse frequency. Initially, patients could perceive a difference in the intensity of sensations when the frequency of stimulation was increased or reduced by 50%. After a month of daily use of sensory feedback, a change of approximately 30% in the frequency of stimulation could be perceived as an increase or decrease in intensity of tactile sensation.
As of October 2021, clinical trials for prosthetic arms are underway. Integrum, the company that developed the prosthesis, expects to develop prosthetic limbs for legs using the same technology soon.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are also being used by Integrum to allow amputation victims to move their prosthesis intuitively, ASME reports. The AI prosthesis, based on Coapt's technology, uses sensors placed in the stump of the amputee’s arm to capture commands from the accident victim’s brain. The “commands then activate the prosthetic arm intuitively through sensors and the control panel placed within the prosthetic. The system then stores user data to improve the movements as the user learns to operate the system.”
More expensive robotic arms are using 3D printing for their production. The good news, ASME says, is that “even simpler devices are being built with 3D printers for people with little means and those in developing countries.” The Amputee Coalition states that a typical prosthetic hand can cost several thousand dollars. High-end models can cost $10,000, while the cost of a 3D-printed hand prosthesis is just about $50. The low cost is especially useful if a child suffers an amputation because they will need new prostheses as they grow.
Limb regeneration is on the horizon
While the ability to regrow a lost limb or appendage may seem far away, US News reported on January 27, 2022, that scientists were able to regrow a frog’s leg.
Some creatures, such as lizards and salamanders, can regenerate part of their lost limbs. The US News story stated that a five-drug cocktail, covered by a silicone cap (called a “BioDome” by the scientists), placed over the stump for 24 hours, was used by scientists to regrow the missing legs of adult African clawed frogs. The regrowth of the legs took 18 months and the new leg was almost fully functional.
The research was co-authored by Nirosha Murugan, a research affiliate at the Tufts University Allen Discovery Center in Boston. Murugan stated that, “the fact that it required only a brief exposure to the drugs to set in motion a months-long regeneration process suggests that frogs and perhaps other animals may have dormant regenerative capabilities that can be triggered into action.” The research was published in January 2022 in the journal Science Advances.
The frogs were able to use the limbs for swimming, movement, and stimuli (touch) responses.
Per U.S. News, “[E]ach of the five drugs had a different purpose, including reducing inflammation, inhibiting the production of collagen which would lead to scarring, and encouraging the new growth of nerve fibers, blood vessels, and muscle.”
The researchers will now begin studying how the treatment applies to mammals.
At McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP our Los Angeles amputation injury lawyers understand how traumatic it is for anyone to lose a limb or appendage. We also know that there is extraordinary science being done every day that could help limb loss victims. Until that science becomes available, however, we will continue to fight relentlessly to hold drivers, property owners, manufacturers, and others liable for injuries that occur due to Southern California accidents, so you can get the help you need. To speak with a respected, seasoned personal injury lawyer, call us now at 310-474-1582 or use our contact form to make an appointment.
Please note that this blog is not to be construed as legal advice. Because every case is fact-specific, you should consult directly with an attorney to obtain legal advice specific to your situation.
For more than three decades, McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP has built a reputation as one of California’s leading law firms. Founded by a family of attorneys spanning three generations, John McNicholas and sons, Patrick and Matthew, have tried hundreds of cases to jury verdict on behalf of clients. Learn More about McNicholas & McNicholas