movements in portions of the limb that no longer exist. The electro-chemical signals are then captured and wirelessly transmitted from
the implants to a decoder box designed to serve as an electronic “brain.”
The IMES system also connects the brain to the artificial limb, allowing
brain signals to control the prosthesis.
Once aware of how the system worked, Sides agreed to take part in a
two-year study and underwent surgery at Walter Reed National Medical
Military Center in Bethesda, MD in June of 2013.
Dr. Patricia McKay, orthopedic surgeon and Assistant Dean for
Clinical Sciences at the Uniformed Services University of the Health
Sciences, operated on Sides at Walter Reed. According to Dr. McKay,
the procedure was a fairly straightforward one with minimal risks for
Dr. McKay says the surgical team acquired useful knowledge and additional confidence prior to the procedure on Sides by practicing on a
“What we found is that in a normal arm, the muscles are all exactly
where they were expected to be,” she says, adding that the practice
included placing implants in the cadaveric arm. “But in somebody who
has had an amputation, the trauma that led to the amputation distorts
the normal anatomy.”
To make matters worse, there are times where the amputee’s muscles
have been wrapped around a bone in ways that make it fairly difficult
for surgeons to identify them. As a result, in the case of Sides, it was
determined the best strategy for procedural success was to ensure he
was awake during the surgery. This allowed him to move certain muscles
during the procedure, which helped doctors properly identify them.
“If we didn’t have him awake, there would be a small risk that we could
have the device in a muscle he didn’t have good control over,” she says.
The procedure was a success and Sides fared well during his two-week post-surgical recovery. Dr. McKay says she was amazed by the
results of the implementation of the system.
“This technology gives the patient a much more intuitive control of
the limb and a lot more options for how to use the hand,” she says.
“It’s a lot more functional.”
Three patients have been implanted and are testing the IMES
system. However, what’s more notable – and exciting – is that all three
patients have reported satisfaction with the system's functionality.
According to Hankin, there is good reason to believe the IMES
system could be made available to the public in the not-to-distant
“We are exploring collaborative relationships with the developer/
manufacturers of many different robotic limbs so that when the system
does hit the market, the systems will be compatible without the need
to tackle difficult integration issues that we are undertaking now..”
As of press time, Sides is faring well and plans to retire from the
Marine Corps at the end of March and return to California to pursue a
degree in geology at a local community college.
He says he's appreciative of the opportunity to test the system,
but he doesn't think he'll fully recognize its benefits until the trial is
“I don’t think it’s really going to hit me until they take it away that
I’m going to realize how big of a deal it was to move myself whenever
I wanted to and to have simultaneous movement,” says Sides. “I think
that’s going to be the two biggest things I’m going to miss with this.”
“They say this the way it’s going to go, and I hope so,” he contin-
ues. “Right now it is the best thing they’ve come up with.”
Dr. McKay agrees.
“I think it’s really the next step in the myoelectric type of prosthesis,” she says. “It gives us the potential to add a lot more functions to
that limb in terms of what actions the patient can control.”
“I think it's really the next step in the
myoelectric type of prosthesis.”
– Dr. Patricia McKay, Uniformed Services
University of the Health Sciences
• Tiny sensors the size of a grain of rice are
implanted into the residual limb of an amputee,
targeting the very muscles that would control
• The implants detect movements in portions of
the patient’s limb that no longer exist. Electro-chemical signals are captured and wirelessly
transmitted from the implants to a decoder box
designed to serve as an electronic brain of sorts
• The IMES system connects the brain to the artificial limb, allowing brain signals to control the
Quick Take On The IMES System