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Animal Prosthetics: A Leg Up on a Bad Break

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Amputee animals have a hard life. In the last few years, more and more disabled creatures of different species are being helped by modern technology, and by the researchers and volunteers who go the extra mile.

Fuji's Rubber Tail

Fuji is a dolphin who lives in an aquarium in Okinawa. A mysterious illness in 2002 caused her tail to rot, and it was amputated to stop the spread of the disease. Without a tail, a dolphin can't swim. Engineers from Bridgestone Tire Company worked to design a new rubber tail for Fuji. The first designs did not work properly or had some other drawback. Finally, Fuji accepted the third tail design, made of silicon rubber with a foam padding, and was able to swim almost as well as an intact dolphin.

Uzonka and Beauty and their New Beaks

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When a bird's beak is damaged, it may not be able to eat, drink, or hunt properly and could die as a result. Uzonka the stork had her bill damaged by human assault. She received a prosthetic beak after five preparatory operations and is in the care of an animal hospital in Uzon, Romania.

beauty.jpgBeauty is an Alaskan bald eagle whose beak was shot off several years ago. She was found in 2005, unable to properly hunt or eat. She was taken to a refuge, but her beak did not grow back. Beauty will receive a nylon-composite beak next month. A new beak attached with screws would enable her to hunt, but the animal experts in charge of the surgery decided against it, because the screws would have to be dangerously close to her eyes and brain. Instead, her prosthetic beak will be attached with glue. Beauty must stay in human custody, where she will be fed and protected.

George Bailey's Implanted Leg

prosthesis.jpgA cat named George Bailey was born with only stumps for hind legs. He got around by dragging his rear end. Veterinarians and engineers from North Carolina State University tackled the problem in a new way. Instead of attaching a limb over a stump, they attached an artificial limb to his bones. The hope was that the existing bone tissue would grow around the prosthetic, a process called osseointegration. Using a cat scan of the cat, they created a model of George's pelvis and leg bones and designed a lower leg and foot. In 2005, the team implanted a titanium post into George's stump, to which the prosthetic leg could be attached. George was soon running and jumping on his new leg. Animals that normally walk on four legs usually get along just fine with three. George took great advantage of his new mobility, and was so rambunctious that in two months, he broke the titanium nails that were holding his leg in place. The prosthetic limb had to be removed.

Storm's Carbon Fiber Paw

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A Belgium shepherd named Storm had a similar surgery performed in England in 2007. Storm had lost a front paw due to a tumor. A titanium rod was implanted in the dog's radius, and a carbon fiber paw was later plugged into the rod.

Stumpy the Kangaroo

MFstumpyKangaroo.jpgStumpy the red kangaroo lives in Ohio, at the International Kangaroo Society's sanctuary. She only has one leg. Veterinarians at Ohio State University created an artificial limb for her. Dr. David E. Anderson, Associate Professor of Surgery, Food Animal, of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Richard Nitsch, a licensed prosthesis orthotist for American Orthopedics, made sure it included a spring to replicate the natural movement of a kangaroo.

Allison the Triple Amputee Sea Turtle

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Allison is a three-year-old Atlantic Green sea turtle. She was found in south Texas with only one fin, bleeding from where the other three should be. She was taken to Sea Turtle Inc, a turtle conservation facility, where she healed up against the odds. Allison can swim with just one fin, but only in circles. In February, medical and veterinary volunteers announced they would fit her with a prosthetic flipper on her left rear, where she has enough one to support one. There have been no updates, so the procedure probably hasn't taken place yet.

George the Pegleg Parrot

georgeparrot.jpgGeorge the African Gray parrot lost a leg 18 months ago when he was attacked by an unidentified wild animal. Since then, he's had a hard time getting any sleep, as he tries to balance on one foot. It even drove him to swearing! But Dr. Glyn Heath of the University of Salford's School of Health Care Professions designed an artificial leg for George. Although Dr. Heath has made many false limbs for animals, this was his first prosthetic for a bird. This particular leg wasn't fitted on George himself, but attached to his perch. The idea was that George could sit on it and balance himself enough to get some sleep. However, George wasn't impressed with his prosthetic. In fact, he ate it.

Tahi the Kiwi

MFtahi.jpgKiwi birds do not fly; they walk on two legs. So when Tahi lost a leg in a trap, he could do nothing but hop. The New Zealand zoo where the kiwi lived turned to the Wellington Artificial Limb Board and Weta Workshop, the team responsible for the special effects in the Lord of the Rings movies. The Weta crew made a mold of the bird's stump, and the Limb Board made an articulated (bendable) limb, the smallest they've ever made. Tahi can now stand, and is learning to run with his new leg.

Motala and Mocha Survive Land Mines

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Motala the elephant stepped on a land mine near the Thai-Burma border in 1999. Veterinarians were able to repair her front leg, but it was left much shorter than the others. At Friends of the Asian Elephant's hospital in Thailand, Motala began using a prosthetic leg in 2005. The prosthesis is a bag filled with wood shavings, which makes her damaged leg as long as the others. She accepted the attachment, and is still using the same kind of prosthetic leg. You can follow Motala's life in pictures at her webpage.

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A very young elephant named Mocha found herself in the much the same situation after an encounter with a land mine near the border with Burma. Mocha was fitted with a new leg earlier this year, also from the Friends of the Asian Elephant organization in Thailand.

Artificial limbs have been fitted on horses, llamas, and cows, and probably plenty of other animals.

Other prosthetics are available, too. A group of students are opening a business to produce dentures for cats. But the strangest prosthetics are Neuticles, which are implanted testicles for dogs who has been neutered. It's purely for cosmetic reasons.

It may seem extravagant to fit prosthetics on animals that have a relatively short life span, but it makes a big difference in the quality of life for that particular animal. It also enhances the quality of life for the animal's owner. The experience of fitting artificial limbs to animals leads to innovations in human prosthetics. And after all, most of these animals are missing their natural parts because of humans.

PS: Here is one reaction to this story that you must read for its incredible cuteness.

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Medicine
Scientists Are Working on a Way to Treat Eye Floaters With Lasers
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Even people with 20/20 eyesight should be familiar with this scenario: You're enjoying a clear view when a faint doodle shape drifts into your peripheral vision like an organism under a microscope. Floaters affect almost everyone, but there's currently no medically accepted, non-invasive way to treat them. Two doctors with Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston are working to change that. As IFLScience reports, the team believes that lasers may be the solution to bothersome eye squiggles.

As Chirag Shah and Jeffrey Heier write in their study in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, lasers can be used to safely combat the underlying causes of floaters. Also known as muscae volitantes, Latin for “hovering flies,” the condition comes from physical debris leaking into your eyeball. The front of your eyes is filled with a liquid called vitreous humor, and when drops of that gelatinous substance break off from the whole, the bits cast shadows on your retinas that look like gray blobs. Because floaters literally float inside your eyes, trying to focus on one is almost impossible.

These spots aren't typically a problem for young people, but as you get older your vitreous humor becomes more watery, which increases the chance of it slipping out and clouding your vision. Retinal detachment and retinal tears are also rare but serious causes of symptomatic floaters.

Shah and Heier tested a new method of pinpointing and eliminating floaters with a YAG laser (a type of laser often used in cataract surgery) on 36 patients. An additional 16 test subjects were treated with a sham laser as a placebo. They found that 54 percent of the treated participants saw their floaters decrease over six months, compared to just 9 percent of the control group. So far, the procedure appears be safe and free of side effects, but researchers noted that more follow-up time is needed to determine if those results are long-term.

At the moment, people with symptomatic floaters can choose between surgery or living with the ailment for the rest of their lives. YAG laser treatment may one day offer a safe and easy alternative, but the researchers say they will need to expand the size of future studies before the treatment is ready to go public.

[h/t IFLScience]

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Bite Helper
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technology
New Gadget Claims to De-Itch Your Mosquito Bites
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Bite Helper

Summer can be an itchy time for anyone who wants to enjoy the outdoors. Mosquitos are everywhere, and some people are particularly susceptible to their bites and the itching that comes with them. A new product aims to stop the suffering. Bite Helper, reviewed by Mashable, is designed to stop your bites from itching.

Place the pen-like device over your swollen bite and it will begin to emit heat and vibrations designed to quell the itch. It’s meant to increase blood flow around the area to alleviate your pain, heating your skin up to 120°F for up to 45 seconds. It’s the size of a thin tube of sunscreen and is battery powered.

Most dermatologists advise applying cold to alleviate itching from insect bites, so the question is: Will heating up your skin really work? Bite Helper hasn’t been clinically tested, so it’s hard to say for certain how effective it would be. There has been some research to suggest that heat can help increase blood flow in general, but decrease histamine-induced blood flow in the skin (part of the body’s normal response to allergens) and reduce itching overall. In a German study of wasp, mosquito, and bee stings, concentrated heat led to a significant improvement in symptoms, though the researchers focused mostly on pain reduction rather than itching.

Bite Helper’s technique "seems like a legitimate claim" when it comes to localized itching, Tasuku Akiyama, who studies the mechanisms of itching at the University of Miami, tells Mental Floss. "The increase in the blood flow may increase the rate of elimination of itch mediator from the area." However, before that happens, the heat might also make the itch a little worse in the short-term, he cautions. This seems to be borne out by user experience: While Mashable's reviewer found that using the device didn’t hurt at all, his daughter found it too hot to bear for more than a few seconds.

If the device does in fact relieve itching, though, a few seconds of pain may be worth it.

Bite Helper is $25 on Amazon.

[h/t Mashable]

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