Cyborg cat walks on bionic feet

Surgeons have grafted bone-like metal prostheses onto the legs of a cat who lost its feet in a horrible accident. Now Oscar can walk again. Cat lovers may want tissues at the ready - things are about to get heartwarming.

Oscar is a cat from the British isle of Jersey who lost his back feet last October when he was run over by a combine harvester while dozing outside. His owner's local vet referred him to Surrey veterinarian Noel Fitzpatrick, whose work with bionic grafts is explored in the upcoming BBC series The Bionic Vet.

As the only somewhat tearjerking video up top shows, Dr. Fitzpatrick has found a way to let Oscar walk again. He's done this by grafting what are essentially metal pegs into Oscar's legs, which heal in such a way that they pretty much identical to any other bones in Oscar's body. The pegs are officially called intraosseous transcutaneous amputation prosthetics (Itaps for short) and are the brainchild of Professor Gordon Blunn, head of University College London's Centre for Biomedical Engineering.

Fitzpatrick explains the wider significance of the successful surgery:

"The real revolution with Oscar is [that] we have put a piece of metal and a flange into which skin grows into an extremely tight bone. We have managed to get the bone and skin to grow into the implant and we have developed an 'exoprosthesis' that allows this implant to work as a see-saw on the bottom of an animal's limbs to give him effectively normal gait."

Professor Blunn is also working on further developing the technology for use on humans. They are developing a prosthesis along similar lines for a woman who lost her arm in the London bombings of 2005, and the fact that Dr. Fitzpatrick was able to graft two separate prostheses onto Oscar - on what Blunn calls "an unusual site" for such grafts, no less -

The surgery has been a complete success for Oscar as well, who can now use his new feet to walk pretty much precisely the same way he did before. As Dr. Fitzpatrick observes after watching Oscar bound across the room: "He's just the best cat in the world. I can't tell you how good it feels to keep him alive." Awwwww . . . kitty.

[BBC News]