U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was in Chicago Monday calling for more funding for prosthetics research. Durbin says the number of people needing prosthetics or orthotics, whether it's veterans or the elderly, is quickly outpacing the number of clinicians available.
"We need to start now to document, study and to spread institutional knowledge," Durbin said. "We also have to build our masters degree schools around the country to graduate the next generation of clinicians."
Senator Durbin is introducing two bills in Washington Monday that he says will do just that. One measure would create a competitive grant program for colleges and universities to develop graduate level programs focusing on orthotics and prosthetics. The other would help establish more research on finding out which device will work best for a given patient.
Dr. Todd Kuiken, director of amputee services at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, said there have been some big advances in orthotics and prosthetics recently — a team of clinicians at the RIC, for example, are currently working on a prototype of a bionic leg.
But he says they still have a long way to go.
"The human arm and leg are two of the most incredible machines in the universe, with 100 thousand sensors and a gazillion muscles and strong energy density that always repair themselves," Kuiken said. "And that's the mark we're trying to raise to."
Kuiken said right now, prosthetic legs can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $80,000 and usually need to be replaced every three to five years.