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MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital extend international top position in care with bionic, high-tech prostheses

(Vienna 26th January 2012) The Medical University of Vienna and Vienna General Hospital are further extending their top position in the provision of care with bionic, high-tech prostheses. At the start of the year, the Christian Doppler Laboratory swung into operation at the MedUni Vienna in order to restore the function of extremities – and the excellent reputation of the head of laboratory Oskar Aszmann and his team has now travelled even as far as England. On 24th January, a British soldier who had lost his right arm while on duty in Afghanistan was prepared at the MedUni Vienna, part of the Vienna General Hospital, for a bionic arm prosthesis in a six-hour operation.

The contact between the British Ministry of Defence and the scientists from Vienna highlights the global renown enjoyed by the MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital as a centre for the restoration of function of the extremities. Surgeons can now, thanks to bionic reconstructions, change the anatomy of patients so that mechatronic devices can now mimic the lost function of limbs very effectively. The Christian Doppler Laboratory, set up specifically for this purpose, is set to further underpin the MedUni’s leading position in the field.

Says Aszmann: “Other research projects will lead to an intensive boost both in terms of technological development and clinical application. The use of selective nerve transfer, coupled with modern myoprostheses, is an example of this concept and represents a solid base for new developments in the rehabilitation of extremities.”

“Rediscovering” the arm on your body and the hand on your shoulder
On 24th January 2012, British Corporal Andy Garthwaite was prepared in a several-hour operation at Vienna General Hospital for a bionic arm prosthesis. The 24-year-old had been severely injured 18 months ago while on duty in Afghanistan by a ground-to-air missile and had lost his right arm. “The challenge was to release all the nerves at the stump and connect them to functioning neuromuscular units in the body. This meant that we were able to make the patient “rediscover” his arm, in neurobiological terms, on his body,” explains Aszmann. Skin nerves from the nerve network in the neck were also repositioned so that the patient will soon feel his hand in the area of his shoulder.

The most remarkable case so far was that of Patrick Mayrhofer who, in July 2010, had his own non-functioning hand replaced with a bionic hand in the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Vienna General Hospital. Says Aszmann: “This marks an historic moving of frontiers that put the possibilities of bionic extremity function in plain view for the first time ever.” Patrick’s story became a media event, ranging from interviews with the BBC to appearances on Austrian and German TV – and was also very well received at the World Congress of the Society of Reconstructive Microsurgery in Helsinki in July 2011.

About the Christian Doppler Research Organisation
The Christian Doppler Research Organisation (CDG) is named after the Austrian physicist and mathematician Christian Andreas Doppler. The not profit organisation has been set up to promote the commercial implementation and use of developments in the fields of natural science, technology and economics. It allows talented scientists at highly respected research institutions to carry out high-quality research and transfer knowledge, all orientated towards the needs and benefit of Austrian industry.

The corporate partner to this CD Laboratory is Otto Bock Healthcare Products GmbH, a company specialising in the technology used in prostheses, orthoses, rehabilitation aids and wheelchairs.