CBS Channel 11 in Dallas-Fort Worth covered the research of SMU engineers Marc Christensen and Volkan Otugen who are working to develop technology that will someday help amputees have “feeling” in their artificial limbs.

The research is funded through a $5.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense and industry for a center led by SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering. The goal is to develop revolutionary technology for advanced prosthetic limbs that will help amputees returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Two-way fiber optic communication between prosthetic limbs and peripheral nerves will be key to operating realistic robotic arms, legs and hands that not only move like the real thing, but also “feel” sensations like pressure and heat.

CBS Channel 11’s coverage aired Nov. 30: “Doctors Using Fiber Optics For Prosthetic Limbs.”

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By Keith Garvin

Imagine not being able to pick up a drink, a pen, or even hold a spouse’s hand. For thousands of North Texans living as amputees, that is reality. But, some local engineers are teaming up with medical science to help transform that reality and change lives.

Bernie Diamond of Fort Worth is the picture of health. The former fitness model turned hairdresser was on top of his game. But, three years ago, everything changed in a split second when he was randomly shot while standing outside a home in Dallas.

“I got shot at such a perfect angle that it shot through the wrist and blew out the entire back of my hand,” Diamond said.

After many surgeries and attempts to rehabilitate his left hand, Diamond and his doctors made the decision to amputate his hand just above the wrist.

“I remember I was crying the entire time saying please don’t take my hand, please don’t take my hand,” Diamond said.

He had to learn to function with a prosthetic replacement, which doesn’t allow for much movement. But, that’s what researchers at Southern Methodist University and the University of North Texas are trying to change.

“Today we have very sophisticated robotic arms,” explained Marc Christensen, chair of the electrical engineering department at SMU. “What we’re lacking is a good interface to control them.”

Dr. Gunter Gross at UNT, and Doctors Christensen and Volkan Otugen at SMU are working to create a system of fiber-optic wires and sensors that can replace the vast network of nerves inside a limb.

“It’s a link to send and receive information between the brain and the limb,” explained Dr. Otugen, chair of the mechanical engineering department at SMU.

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