VA touts research department’s newest efforts
Published: November 15, 2011
WASHINGTON – VA researchers have a prosthetic arm that patients can control just by thinking about it.
It’s called brain-computer interface, according to Dr. Joel Kupersmith, VA’s chief research and development officer. “We have a woman who – just by her thoughts – can grab a ball swinging on a string and move it around. The thoughts are recorded with electrodes on the skull, and [patients] can drive prosthetic arms or wheelchairs.”
That “proof of concept” limb is just one of the 2,100 projects being developed by VA researchers, who today gave media a quick overview of their long-term goals and short-term successes.
The department’s researchers have an impressive history in American medicine. VA doctors performed the first liver transplant and invented the first pacemaker. CT scans and multi-site research projects owe their start to past VA investments.
In recent years, Kupersmith said, department officials have focused on catching up with modern technology, projects like GPS units and iPhone applications for blind veterans. Researchers have also expanded their scope, assembling a million-veteran database of DNA and genetic data for research and illness tracking.
Effects of the recent wars have also become a focal point. The VA has several investigations into women’s health issues and at least five post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury studies.
Many of the projects won’t show dividends for years, but other projects – like clinical trials on advanced prosthetic arms – could help veterans much sooner.
That doesn’t mean the brain-powered limb is just around the corner. Kupersmith notes that another patient using the technology has successfully sent emails using only thoughts, but the technology is still years from becoming a practical applications.