Todd Kuiken and Jesse Sullivan

Mind and Body

Pop!Tech 2005
44 minutes, 20.2mb, recorded 2005-10-20
Dr. Kuiken and Jesse Sullivan

As director at the Neural Engineering Center for Artificial Limbs at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Dr. Todd Kuiken has found both a partner and a patient in Jesse Sullivan – a double amputee who has become the world's first bionic man. This presentation at Pop!Tech shows Jesse as he is: a remarkable man, possessing the patience of Job and a remarkable spirit.

"Technology should make life easier," says Dr. Kuiken (pronounced 'KAI-ken'). "The cardinal rule is: Make technology to enable the human." But at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), Dr. Todd Kuiken is changing a human to enable technology, namely robotic body parts.

The technique pioneered by Dr. Kuiken's team is a muscle reinnervation procedure which takes an amputee’s own nerves and connects them to a healthy muscle. In this case, four of Mr. Sullivan’s nerves were dissected from the shoulder and transferred to the muscles of his chest. Doing so allows the user to move the prosthetic arm as if it were a real limb – by simply thinking about what they want the arm to do.

The migration from body-part prosthesis to myoelectric arm uses electrical signals from the muscles of the chest, now activated by the user’s own thought-generated nerve impulses. These "listen" to the muscle to determine when it is contracting. The big problem is operating all the subtle movements of arm, wrist, and fingers.

So how can hardware be created to listen to the subtle signals of nerves? Dr. Kuiken admits that he is "cheating the system" to allow wires to grow into the nerves and muscles to provide more control signals. The physical advantages are multiple control and multiple movements.

But as the kindhearted and self-deprecating Sullivan describes, the true benefits are being able to play with his grandchildren, to work around the house, and to be of service to his wife and family.

This presentation at Pop!Tech was sited as one of the most moving and inspirational.

A resident of Dayton, Tennessee for his whole life, Jesse Sullivan worked for the city's Electric Department for twenty five years. He was seriously injured on the job on May 9th, 2001. Working with Dr. Todd Kuiken and a team at the Rehabilitation Center in Chicago, he has been involved in a major breakthrough in prosthetic technology.

Jesse lives with his wife of 21 years, and family (including six children and nine grandchildren) in Dayton. Before his accident, Jesse enjoyed fishing, hunting, camping and some farming -- things he hopes to be able to do again soon.

Todd Kuiken is the Director of the Neural Engineering Center for Artificial Limbs at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. The Center focuses on improving the function of artificial arms using neural integration techniques.

Todd's research interests include improving the care of amputees, the control of artificial limbs, the study of bioelectromagnetics, prosthetic design & development, and wheelchair mobility systems. He is an Associate Professor in the Dept. of PM&R and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs representing the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. He is an active clinician and the Director of Amputee Services at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. His clinical activity is focused on the care of people with amputation.

Todd received a B.S. degree in biomedical engineering from Duke University, a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Northwestern University, and his M.D. from Northwestern University Medical School. He was the Frankel Research Fellow at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in 1992.


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