A robotic control system for a prosthetic leg allowed a 31-year-old man to walk and climb stairs with a nearly normal gait, researchers reported.

The system links nerves in the thigh -- including some for missing muscles in the lower limb -- to a processor that decodes the signals and guides the motion of the prosthesis, according to Levi Hargrove, PhD, of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and colleagues.

The patient found controlling the system easy and was able to make "seamless transitions between walking on level ground, stairs, and ramps," Hargrove and colleagues reported in the Sept. 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The work is a continuation of research by the same group that focused on better control of upper limb prostheses. A report in 2009 said some patients were even able to perform such difficult tasks as catching checkers rolling across a table.

Hargrove and colleagues outline some "phenomenal research," commented Danielle Melton, MD, of the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.

She noted that losing an upper limb affects activities of daily living, while loss of a lower limb affects mobility, so the issues involved are different, although not necessarily more difficult.

The downside for patients is that the technology will take some refining before it's readily available in the clinic, Melton told MedPage Today. But, like computer technology, the novel system is likely to progress rapidly, she added.

Indeed, the report is "one case and one patient," cautioned Benjamin Walter, MD, of University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

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