October 19, 2012

Popular Mechanics Honors O&P-Related Innovations

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An individual and a team of collaborators received Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards for their respective work on two O&P-related innovations. The awards, presented at a conference and ceremony held October 4 in New York, New York, recognize the innovators and products that have dramatically advanced the fields of technology, medicine, space exploration, automotive design, environmental engineering, and more, according to Popular Mechanics.

Katherine Bomkamp received the Next-Generation Breakthrough Award for a pain-free prosthetic socket she developed while in high school that uses thermal biofeedback. Her most recent prototype has automatic temperature regulation, embedded thermoresistive wiring, and a solar-powered lithium-ion battery, according to Popular Mechanics. Bomkamp received a patent last spring. The next step is to launch human trials.

In addition to this award, Bomkamp was named a 2012 Newman Civic Fellow. The fellowship recognizes student leaders who have worked toward finding solutions for challenges facing communities; it is awarded by Campus Compact, a national coalition of 1,200 college and university presidents committed to fulfilling the civic purposes of higher education. In February, she became the youngest person ever to present to the Royal Society of Medicine’s Medical Innovations Summit in London, England, and last year she was named one of Glamour magazine’s 21 Amazing Young Women. Bomkamp’s innovation has received worldwide media coverage.

A team of collaborators with the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt), Pennsylvania, and the test subject, received a Breakthrough Award for their work on a brain-computer interface (BCI) that allowed a man with quadriplegia to operate a robotic arm using just his thoughts in its testing. The researchers placed a BCI—an electrode grid the size of a postage stamp—on the surface of test subject’s brain. The BCI was hooked up to a robotic arm and hand that was designed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU APL), Baltimore, Maryland, which won a 2007 Breakthrough Award. The electrical signals generated by the subjects’ thoughts were translated into computer code that allowed him to move the arm.The team’s ultimate goal is to embed sensors in the robotic arm that can send signals back to the brain, allowing subjects to “feel” whether an object the arm touches is hot, cold, soft, hard, heavy, or light, according to Popular Mechanics.

The collaborators are Michael Boninger, MD, professor and chair of the Pitt Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R), associate dean of medical student research in the Pitt School of Medicine, and director of the Pitt Model Center on Spinal Cord Injury; Jennifer Collinger, PhD, an assistant professor in the Pitt Department of PM&R; Alan Degenhart, BS, a doctoral candidate in the Pitt Department of Engineering; Andrew Schwartz, PhD, professor of neurobiology in the Pitt Neurobiology Department; Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurological surgery and bioengineering director, pediatric epilepsy surgery, in the Pitt Department of Neurological Surgery; and Wei Wang, MD, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of PM&R. The test subject is Tim Hemmes, who suffered quadriplegia as the result of a motorcycle accident eight years ago.

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