Salt Lake veterans hospital to test next generation of prosthetic limbs

Published: Friday, May 17 2013 9:35 p.m. MDT

Project manager Sarina K. Sinclair talks about osseointegration, which means to actually attach a prosthesis directly to the bone, which 10 amputees will be the first to have in the United States and will be performed at the George E. Wahlen VA Medical Center, Friday, May 17, 2013, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Doctors at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center will soon start clinical trials on a new way to attach prosthetic legs.

The innovative prosthetic implant could help the thousands of veterans who suffer with limb amputations where the standard prosthetics are not an option, either because of skin issues or because the length of their remaining limb is too short.

“This is a really big deal,” said chief researcher Dr. Lawrence Meyer. “We are the first place in the nation to try to do these."

Thousands of military servicemen survive their battlefield injuries but come home missing a leg or an arm. Many amputees are unhappy about the typical socket-type attachment system.

“They just aren’t comfortable,” said Dr. Sarina Sinclair, project manager. “They just don’t have that function and quality of life to be able to move freely.”

The new prosthetic implant requires a two-step process. In the first surgery, a titanium rod is implanted into the person’s residual bone in a process called osseointegration. The porous titanium material allows skin and bone to grow into the rod, forming a secure bond.

Then, a second post is inserted about six weeks later, extending out of the skin and connecting to the prosthetic limb.

“They just click this on at the end of the post and it’s there, and they can move about freely with it,” Sinclair said. “They don’t have to think about it as much. They don’t have to adjust it as much.”

The procedure has the potential to give most amputees full function again, Meyer said.

“This is going to be able to give people a solid connection, where otherwise it would be teetering on top of something that’s loose, standing on a chair with an unequal leg,” he said.

With the new osseointegrated technology, a person would have a better sense for what it is they're walking on.

The procedure has been done in Europe, Australia and Africa for several years. Due to the regulatory process in the U.S., the procedure has taken a little longer to study and approve.

In the past, the biggest hurdle researchers have had to overcome was infection. They have now developed a barrier for the skin to reduce it.

The hospital received a $1 million grant from the Department of Veteran Affairs. This summer, the hospital will start screening VA patients from all over the country who have lost a leg above the knee for the first 10-patient clinical trial.

Researchers hope to have the first surgical implant within a year. The surgery and follow-up care will be done in Salt Lake City.

Meyer said the research will benefit veterans and many others in the years to come, including those who have diabetes, which he said was probably the biggest cause of amputation.

“This will spill over and it will affect a lot of people in America,” he said.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: jboal@deseretnews.com, Twitter: jedboal

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