New Advances in Prosthetics

It's not often you meet a researcher looking for a solution to a condition they themselves are dealing with. But when you do their quest has added resonance. Hugh Herr is a double amputee having lost both his legs below the knee while mountain climbing at age 17. He's also one of the world's leading prosthetics innovators through his work at MIT. Herr was recently awarded the $250,000 Heinz Award for Technology, the Economy and Employment, but more importantly his efforts have resulted in breakthroughs for other amputees like Iraq war veteran, Army specialist Garth Stewart.

Stewart was the first recipient of Herr's rather bionic lower leg, which uses a combination of subtle mechanics and delicate robotics to better recreate human muscles and bones. Stewart, who previously had a decent but limited prosthetic, is astounded at the difference. He had part of his lower left leg blown off when he stepped on a landmine. Now, he's excited about the future possibilities, which include reduced lower back pain, something many amputee wearers suffer. And Stewart should know about fatigue since this is a guy who still practices jujitsu. (Seriously.)

But Herr isn't satisfied. He doesn't see prosthetic limbs as a replacement. In fact,quite the opposite. He sees them as an opportunity to improve on the "imperfect" design of the human body. With wireless sensors and software, Herr pushes his prosthetics to adapt to irregular terrain or faster movement. Eventually leaping higher or running faster. Forget about being disadvantaged. He believes people (be them military or other) who wear prosthetics will one day have an advantage over those who don't wear them.

We'll introduce you to both Stewart and Herr on tonight's Evening New with Katie Couric, and I hope you'll watch. It's a special story of science meets human perseverance. As Herr says, it's just the first step. But, boy, is it a big one.

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