Science And Assistive Technology Converge With Biotech Showcased In NOVA’s ‘Augmented’ Documentary

Clara D. Flaherty

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NOVA, the venerable science and engineering series on public television, is currently jogging a documentary about men and women with robotic limbs called “Augmented.” The movie chronicles the journey of Hugh Herr, a biophysicist who had both legs amputated at 17 immediately after a climbing incident. Unhappy with standard prosthetic limbs, he utilized his scientific acumen to produce what NOVA describes as “innovative prosthetic devices” that are managed by the mind.

A member of Herr’s team of scientists, Dr. Shriya Srinivasan is a postdoctoral researcher and junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. Named to Forbes’ “30 below 30” checklist, she has a diploma in biomedical engineering, with a concentration in biomaterials her doctorate is in clinical engineering and clinical physics. Dr. Srinivasan’s study has bundled the advancement of novel neural interfaces, utilizing tissue engineering to far more seamlessly link human limbs to prostheses. The neural interfaces she has produced restore a sense of proprioception and touch from prostheses they have been clinically translated to about 30 people as a result much.

In an interview with me performed around email, Dr. Srinivasan explained herself as a “passionate” and “hungry” graduate scholar eager on resolving challenges connected to neuromuscular diseases, neural imaging, and prosthetics. She acquired concerned with Herr in aspect simply because she saw an chance to leverage the understanding she gleaned from her experiments into authentic-planet applications. It also affected her on a personal degree. Her grandfather battled ALS—colloquially identified as Lou Gehrig’s Disease—in the past decade of his lifestyle, and she grew to become acutely mindful the quite a few burdens (emotionally, physically, and economically) associated with ailments that have an affect on the limbs and anxious method. Dr. Srinivasan uncovered herself determined to study more about these conditions and to locate options for men and women troubled with them.

Herr’s tale was a great fit. “Hugh, having been a bilateral amputee [both arms or legs are fully or partially amputated], and his solution to studying [and] building answers for limb reduction fascinated,” she said. “The lab was also stuffed with a huge array of disciplines—and I was compelled to learn and train in these an ecosystem.”

The most important progress proven in the movie is a new surgical procedure that enables improved interfacing with highly developed prostheses, according to Dr. Srinivasan. The get the job done to make it come about essential a trans-disciplinary approach that built-in surgical reconstruction with engineering and design and style, crafted by a crew of biomedical engineers and surgeons. The end result is a genuine tour de drive of engineering. “The interface enables the clients to command a bionic limb and receive sensory opinions from it,” Dr. Srinivasan stated.

Dr. Srinivasan instructed me Herr was “pleasantly surprised” by his new prostheses, introducing the effects “exceeded our anticipations.” Herr strategies on going through a modified version of the operation, produced by Dr. Srinivasan, which incorporates regenerative grafts to restore the capability of sensory responses in his limbs. The system will allow for his neuromuscular technique to be “upgraded” and interface with robotic protheses. It gives an totally new that means to software updates.

All instructed, Dr. Srinivasan said immediate developments in technology make feasible the varieties of assistive equipment utilized by Herr and other people. In reality, the synthetic limbs are theoretically much more able than human ones—with the caveat that this assumes seamless neural handle.

The technology’s opportunity for foreseeable future purposes excites Dr. Srinivasan. “In the future, I visualize non-anthropomorphic styles that can increase operation for human beings,” she said. “These units may well also be used in clients with muscle weak point and provide to permit increased mobility and independence in their actions.”

Despite the fact that the movie facilities on Herr, a different person who functions prominently in the movie is Jim Ewing. In 2014, Ewing fell 50 feet from a cliff whilst rock climbing. He decided to participate in the groundbreaking surgical treatment pioneered by Dr. Srinivasan and Herr’s staff, turning into the first recipient of a mind-controlled limb that restored his capability to rock climb again. Ewing even climbs competitively, possessing participated in the once-a-year 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell occasion held in Arizona. Ewing has identified Herr for many years, and seeing Herr resume activity after his incident helped him realize that the decline of a limb did not mean “the close of an active existence,” Ewing advised me not long ago in a separate job interview.

Prior to his incident, Ewing experienced only “peripheral” information of accessibility and assistive technological know-how. He noticed conceptual products whilst in engineering school, as properly as subsequent Herr’s adventures at MIT. The incident did not improve Ewing’s outlook on accessibility becoming an engineer, his perspective is that “we really should generally be pushing the boundaries of know-how, to take as considerably as we perhaps can.”

Ewing designed very clear in our dialogue he does not basically have the robotic limbs for day-to-working day residing, as the lab wouldn’t permit him keep the prototypes. In its place, he generally uses them when scientists require to obtain details. Ewing noted the distinctions concerning climbing with the robotic leg and the typical one he generally uses.

“When I climb with the robotic leg, it can be typically in a extremely managed environment with precise data to be gathered. It is entertaining to climb with it and what I’ve discovered is that I get to return to a much more organic kind of motion,” he claimed. “When I climb with my common climbing leg, I occasionally have to place myself in awkward or unnatural positions in order to get the foot to keep on a maintain. With the robot, I can place the foot just how I want in order to use a certain maintain. The splendor of it is that I move the foot all around making use of the exact same muscular tissues I would have used if I however experienced my biological foot.”

Searching in direction of the future, Ewing instructed me he has several climbing visits planned, as he stressed the value of preserving lively. “It surprised me to find out just how considerably I had taken my mobility for granted,” he explained. “It was not till just after my incident and I was not able to shift without the need of constant ache that I understood how critical motion was to my mental wellness, never ever head my physical overall health.”

“Augmented” is available now to observe on the PBS website or in the PBS application. The internet site variation includes a total transcript.

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