Reengineering the Prosthetic-Arm Socket

To create the next generation of prosthetic arms, Dean Kamen had to reinvent the prosthetic socket

4 min read

15 February 2008–The prosthetic arm hasn't changed much since the second World War. It's basically a cable and a hook that opens and closes when you shrug. With only 6000 people needing new prosthetic arms in a given year in the United States, the market has not been big enough or lucrative enough to warrant expensive improvements. But Segway inventor Dean Kamen took on the task of creating a better device at the behest of the U.S. Department of Defense. His team of engineers at Deka Research & Development Corp., in Manchester, N.H., have developed a state-of-the-art functional prosthetic arm with usable fingers and sensory feedback. They were able to do so largely because of advanced low-power electronics and better batteries. But one part of the problem had little to do with motors or processing and everything to do with changing a key part of current prosthetic design: the way the prosthetic is joined to the body. Commonly known as the socket, that interface is the No. 1 complaint of arm amputees.

The goal of the Defense Department project, started in 2005, was to create an intuitively usable cutting-edge arm. But Kamen soon realized that an improved arm would be useless if it didn't feel as naturally connected to the body as a real arm. ”The problem wasn't entirely the arm,” Kamen says. ”It was how the arm attaches to the person. We spoke to a lot of people with sockets and we found 80 percent of the current kinds sit in people's closets.”

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This CAD Program Can Design New Organisms

Genetic engineers have a powerful new tool to write and edit DNA code

11 min read
A photo showing machinery in a lab

Foundries such as the Edinburgh Genome Foundry assemble fragments of synthetic DNA and send them to labs for testing in cells.

Edinburgh Genome Foundry, University of Edinburgh

In the next decade, medical science may finally advance cures for some of the most complex diseases that plague humanity. Many diseases are caused by mutations in the human genome, which can either be inherited from our parents (such as in cystic fibrosis), or acquired during life, such as most types of cancer. For some of these conditions, medical researchers have identified the exact mutations that lead to disease; but in many more, they're still seeking answers. And without understanding the cause of a problem, it's pretty tough to find a cure.

We believe that a key enabling technology in this quest is a computer-aided design (CAD) program for genome editing, which our organization is launching this week at the Genome Project-write (GP-write) conference.

With this CAD program, medical researchers will be able to quickly design hundreds of different genomes with any combination of mutations and send the genetic code to a company that manufactures strings of DNA. Those fragments of synthesized DNA can then be sent to a foundry for assembly, and finally to a lab where the designed genomes can be tested in cells. Based on how the cells grow, researchers can use the CAD program to iterate with a new batch of redesigned genomes, sharing data for collaborative efforts. Enabling fast redesign of thousands of variants can only be achieved through automation; at that scale, researchers just might identify the combinations of mutations that are causing genetic diseases. This is the first critical R&D step toward finding cures.

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