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Duke University neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis, with his lab monkey.
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Read the complete transcript of this episode, which aired on February 17th, 2004.
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Episode 2: Human Body Shop

To many of us, the idea of a bionic human is the stuff of science fiction. But today, miniature electronics, precision surgical techniques, and an ever-increasing understanding of the human body are making it possible for scientists to turn this science fiction into science fact. "Human Body Shop" explores the complex melding of human and machine -- developments that are helping the blind to see and the lame to walk. We'll meet pioneering scientists who've dedicated their careers to advancing these cutting edge technologies, putting their reputations, personal lives, and finances on the line.

On the front lines of medical technologies are the brave patients who are willing to risk life and limb for a chance to regain some of what they've lost and help advance science.
On the front lines of medical technologies, however, are the brave patients who, with nowhere else to turn, are willing to risk life and limb for a chance to regain some of what they've lost and to help advance scientific endeavor.

Karen Grisdale has been blind for 27 years due to complications from diabetes. Ever since she lost her sight, she has relentlessly searched for a way to regain her vision. Now, she thinks she may have found an answer. She is resting her hopes on the pioneering work of Dr. William Dobelle, who has spent the past 35 years working obsessively on an artificial vision system. He and his team of surgeons will perform an invasive $100,000 surgery to implant electrodes on Karen's brain. The electrodes will convert signals from a camera that she wears on her eyeglasses into stimuli for her visual cortex. If the operation is successful, she will be able to see points of light that conform to basic outlines of objects in front of her. Even these rudimentary visual skills could give Karen the ability to navigate through her home and walk down the street without assistance, granting her the mobility that she needs to conduct her everyday life in the independent manner she desires. Will the system live up to her expectations?

Richard Branemark is an innovator whose groundbreaking surgical procedure, called osseointegration, is a revolutionary new prosthetic technique. The prosthetic is attached not to the sensitive flesh; rather, it is anchored directly to the bone, via a titanium implant. It's a virtual rebuilding of the body. This revolutionary procedure not only removes the painful problems associated with socket prosthetics, but also gives patients much greater flexibility, mobility and freedom. We follow the story of Erik Ax, a man who felt that Branemark's surgery was the only solution to debilitating problems he faced with his traditional prosthetic after he lost his leg in a hunting accident. We also track the story of Branemark himself, who has braved tough professional and personal sacrifices to develop and market his innovation.

At Duke University, neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis is taking prosthetic research to the highest level -- directly into the brain. He is one of the few researchers in the world who is developing what many consider to be the holy grail of prosthetics -- mind-controlled machines. In his lab, monkeys implanted with neuroprosthetics are able to move robotic arms simply by thinking about the movement. No body movement is necessary. The implications for handicapped people around the world are extraordinary, and so is Nicolelis's vision of the future. "Human Body Shop" introduces us to this remarkable scientist who is pushing the limit of where human ends and machine begins.

Producer/Director: Larry Engel


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