MIT's 'bionic man' offers assistance to amputees of Boston bombings

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    Bionic man plans to help amputee victims

Bionic man plans to help amputee victims 00:58

Editor’s note: Jared Markowitz is a PhD candidate with Hugh Herr's Biomechatronics Group. Hugh Herr heads up MIT’s Biomechatronics Group where they invent cutting edge bionic prosthetic limbs, exoskeletons and more. Herr and his team have mobilized their resources to assist the amputee victims of the Boston bombings in some profound ways. Watch more this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EST on CNN’s “The Next List.”

By Jared Markowitz, Special to CNN

The events in Boston last week were tragic in many ways: human suffering was on display for the world to see, a city was locked down while killers were pursued, and a nation was once again forced to recognize its vulnerability to senseless acts of violence. A week later, the wound is still fresh. Our community continues to mourn the dead, treat the injured, and search for ways to eliminate such attacks. Many lives have been altered irreversibly, yet there is also an abundance of resiliency and hope.

The bombings on Monday left many people with significant injuries and, in many cases, missing lower limbs. The horror of waking up with a different body as a result of a random act of terror should not be understated. Yet thanks to recent advances in prosthetic and rehabilitation technology, many of those who have suffered these devastating injuries have the hope of returning to a full and normal life.

There is now a bionic ankle, foot and calf system that allows the user to walk as quickly and efficiently as non-amputees. Computer-controlled prosthetic knees have been developed that adjust knee resistance continuously, allowing above-knee amputees to walk with improved versatility and stability. Lightweight, compliant running prostheses make it possible for amputees to excel in both sprinting and distance events, including marathons. These technologies are all improving rapidly, with researchers constantly striving to produce more comfortable, responsive and life-like prosthetic limbs.

    Despite these advances, the road back from severe lower limb trauma can be long, arduous and expensive. To help those injured in the Boston bombings, the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics Group has partnered with the Mass Technology Leadership Council and No Barriers on two initiatives.

    First, we are working with the Mass Technology Leadership Council to ensure that each amputee is provided with the assistive and rehabilitative solutions that best address their injury. To that end, if you have a technology that you believe could help those who suffered traumatic injuries please contact us at www.masstlc.org.

    Second, the No Barriers Boston Fund has been established to give the victims devices that will allow them to lead full and active lives. The fund will provide these people with prosthetic limbs designed for athletic activities so that they can run, bike, swim and even dance again. To donate to this important effort, please visit www.nobarriersboston.org.

    The symbolism of such events occurring around the Boston Marathon is difficult to ignore. Few endeavors provide such a ready analogy for the highs and lows of life as this race; it is a celebration of the city, running and the human spirit. While the motivations of those who run the Boston Marathon vary, everyone who participates has endured the grueling training required to qualify. During the marathon, runners are tested by the hills of Newton and the unavoidable "rough patches" that come with the marathon distance. However this all melts away during the triumphant finishing stretch on Boylston Street, an experience that validates all of the struggles up to that point.

    It is our hope that the trials the surviving victims are currently enduring will give way to an even greater victory.