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July 4, 2015

Congress Tells DARPA: Conduct Research Into Preventing Amputations From the Start

Kapil Katyal, Senior Engineer Robotics & Autonomous Systems at John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory demonstrates a robotic hand and arm that responds to brain impulses seen April 22, 2014 during a briefing on DARPA sponsored inventions at the Pentagon. In the version seen here, the robotic hand/arm(L) mimics his real hand(R) that is wearing a sensor glove. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Kapil Katyal, a senior engineer at John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, demonstrates a robotic hand and arm that responds to brain impulses during a briefing in April on DARPA-sponsored inventions at the Pentagon. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Only last month, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s super-advanced robotic arm won approval from the Food and Drug Administration. But a House report released this week asks the Pentagon’s futuristic R&D division to go one step backward: figuring out how not to amputate at all.

“Within its Biomedical Technology line, the Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is encouraged to make resources available for the development of restorative products and technologies which may serve as an alternative to amputation,” reads the draft report by the House Appropriations Committee to accompany the annual defense spending bill.

The panel is set to vote on the $491 billion measure today.

Not that the committee thinks research into prosthetics should be set aside; the report also has a section on “intelligent prosthetics.”

“The Committee recommends $30,000,000 for the peer-reviewed orthopedics research program,” the report states. “The Committee is aware that many of the injuries sustained by servicemembers in combat include multiple limb trauma and are often distinct from trauma typically seen in the civilian environment, thus requiring a unique solution set. The Committee encourages the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) to support research at the intersection of bio-engineering, neuroscience, and rehabilitation to support neural interfaces to peripheral nerves and advanced prosthetics that deliver more functionality to amputees.”

Military amputation statistics show that through the end of 2013, 1,558 troops had lost limbs in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

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