Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna have reconstructed the limbs of a bearded vulture that had to be amputated after it injured its foot, helping the world’s first “bionic bird” land and walk again with two feet.
The team used a novel technique called osseointegration in which external prosthetic parts are connected directly to a bone anchor to provide a solid skeletal-attachment, their study, , noted.
“This concept offers a high degree of embodiment, since osseoperception provides direct intuitive feedback, thereby allowing natural use of the extremity for walking and feeding. For the first time we have now successfully bionically reconstructed the limb of a vulture,” explained Oskar Aszmann from the Department of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery, MedUni Vienna.
With a wingspan of up to 2.6 m, bearded vultures are the largest flying birds in Europe, and the particular bird, “Mia”, had injured its foot, which had to be amputated.
“Following a clinical visit to Haringsee, it was clear that the rare bird could not survive long in its current condition. We designed and fabricated a special bone implant that could be surgically attached to the stump.” Aszmann said in a statement.
To conduct the surgery, the surgeons and researchers first analysed the remaining length of bone and geometry of the inner section’s of the bird’s stump.
Then they made sure that a titanium implant of sufficient length and diameter could be designed so that the external prosthesis would be adequately stable.
The researchers then ensured that the bone physiology and skin surrounding the region is flexible with sufficient blood vessels, so that it could be surgically manipulated to integrate with the titanium prosthesis, and also allow subsequent healing.
After inducing general anaesthesia, the surgeons carefully made a cut 2.8 mm proximal to the distal end of the bone, using a specifically designed instrument.
They then longitudinally inserted the titatnium fixture into the area inside the bone which contains the bone marrow called the medullary canal.
After checking for the successful integration of the prosthetic limb with the bones, the surgeons closed the stump by suturing skin graft onto it, and wrapping sterile gauze around the abutment screw with additional bandage.
The bird was put on antibiotics, pain killers, and anti-inflammatory drugs for the following few days, they said.
“Now Mia can once again land and walk using both feet, making it the first ‘bionic bird’,” Aszmann said.