Worlds first feeling artificial leg offers hope for wounded soldiers


Tom Whitehead Security Editor

June 9, 2015

Ministry of Defence urged to closely monitor the revolutionary invention as experts say it may help soldiers stay on the military

The world’s first “feeling” artificial leg could boost life for wounded soldiers and help them stay in the military, experts said.

The Ministry of Defence was urged to closely monitor the revolutionary invention to see what advantages it can have for personnel who have lost limbs fighting for their country.

The prosthetic limb can, for the first time, recreate the sensation of a real foot allowing the patient to distinguish one terrain from another.

Using special sensors attached to rewired nerve endings, the technology can also reduce the effects of so-called “phantom pain” from which many amputees often suffer.

The prototype has been developed by specialists in Austria, where its first recipient said it was like “being reborn” and he could now tell if he was walking on grass, concrete or sand.

The research project is aimed at improving life for any amputee but military veterans said it could be a particular boost for soldiers.

It is hoped the sense of touch could improve mobility for an amputee soldier and therefore broaden the kind of roles they could take on if they wanted to stay in the military.

The Ministry of Defence said it would look at the research.

Former Reservist Sergeant Craig Gadd, 42, who lost his left leg after being hit by an bomb on his second tour of Afghanistan in 2010, said the limb had the potential to give more options for wounded soldiers.

The Help for Heroes ambassador added: “I would urge the Ministry of Defence to look at this technology. Anything that can improve the quality of life for an amputee, whether a soldier or others, always has to be good news,” he said.

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David Henson, who lost both legs when he accidentally stood on a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2011, said: “What this leg does allow you to do is sense the environment. It means you can sense without looking. That sense of touch is a vital skill.”

Mr Henson, who captained the British Armed Forces team and won Gold in last year’s Invictus Games, added: “ If the evidence is there and there is an advantage to be gained I would expect the MoD would take notice.

“To be fair they have a good track record of monitoring new research and anything that has the potential to get the boys back on their feet.”

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The prototype leg has been created by a Professor Hubert Egger at the University of Linz in Austria.

He and his team were behind a break through in 2010 when they created a limb that could be controlled by the brain.

The latest invention involves rewiring remaining foot nerve endings from a patient’s stump to healthy tissue in the thigh.

Six sensors were then fitted to the foot sole of a lightweight prosthesis, and linked to so-called stimulators inside the shaft where the stump sits.

Every time pressure in applied or a step is taken, the sensors send a signal to the brain.

Former Austrian teacher and amputee Wolfgang Rangger, who has tested the limb, said: “It’s like a second lease of life, like being reborn.

“It feels like I have a foot again. I no longer slip on ice and I can tell whether I walk on gravel, concrete, grass or sand. I can even feel small stones,” he said.

It is also hoped the leg will lessen or eradicate the effects of phantom pain, which is believe to be the result of the brain becoming increasingly sensitive as it seeks information about a missing limb.

Prof Egger told the Daily Telegraph: “This could improve the options for every soldier or any other amputee.”

The leg currently costs between £7,350 and £21,900 but Prof Egger is hoping companies will now back his venture to help bring down the costs.

A MoD spokeswoman said: “The MOD continually looks at research and improvements in technology to ensure that our injured personnel receive the best that is available.

“The products and techniques that we use are continuously reviewed in line with emerging technologies; any development that may be of benefit to our personnel will be considered as part of that process.”

This article was written by Tom Whitehead Security Editor from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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