Top Health Stories of 2012: World’s First Neurally-Controlled Bionic Leg “Installed”

The Dr. Oz Show medical staff chose the top most innovative, interesting and influential health headlines of 2012. Each day until the new year, we’ll round up and revisit the major headlines that had a profound effect on science, medicine and your health over the last 12 months.

Headline #9: Bionic Leg Becomes Reality

When Zac Vawter used a newly developed, neurally-controlled bionic leg to scale 103 floors in a Chicago skyscraper, he not only accomplished what many people can’t do with a pair of natural legs, he also brought national attention to the growing field of medical technology and bionic medicine.

The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) worked with Vawter to develop this new form of technology after he tragically lost his leg in a 2009 motorcycle accident. The leg uses the Targeted Muscle Reinnervation (TMR) technique, which allows for a more natural-feeling prosthetic limb. Though similar technologies have been developed for prosthetic arms and fingers, this is the first time such technology was developed for a leg.

This bionic leg differs from a traditional prosthetic leg in that it is triggered by its user’s movements and neural signals. “One of the biggest differences for me is being able to take stairs step-over-step like everyone else,” said Vawter. “With my standard prosthesis, I have to take every step with my good foot first and sort of lift or drag the prosthetic leg up. With the bionic leg, it’s simple. I take stairs like I used to, and can even take two at a time.”

With his new leg and lease on life, he conquered 103 floors in the SkyRise Chicago, the tallest indoor stair-climb event. The proceeds from this event benefits RIC’s research.

Read More of 2012’s Top Health Stories: