“Bionic” vulture is first bird to receive a permanent prosthetic foot

June 16, 2021

A groundbreaking procedure performed at the Medical University of Vienna (MedUni Vienna), Austria, has successfully created the world’s first “bionic bird” – the large bird of prey was given a new foot using the famed osseointegration (direct skeletal attachment) technique; it is now reportedly in peak health.

The Department of Plastic, Reconstructive, and Aesthetic Surgery at MedUni Vienna has long been regarded as a world leader in bionic limb reconstruction. It was only last year that the world’s first fully integrated bionic arm prosthesis was developed: young technician Patrick Mayrhofer received the bionic prosthesis after losing the use of his hand from a severe injury at work. The same osseointegration technique was used.

In osseointegration, external parts of a prosthetic are directly connected to a bone anchor to guarantee a solid skeletal attachment. “This concept offers a high degree of embodiment, since osseoperception provides direct intuitive feedback thereby allowing natural use of the extremity, said reconstructive surgeon Prof. Oskar Aszmann. Prof. Aszmann previously outfitted three human amputees with mind-controlled bionic arms.

This technique has now been used for the very first time in “Mia,” a female bearded vulture – the largest type of flying bird in Europe.

Mia had injured her foot so badly that it had to be amputated. According to a researcher from the Vienna University of Veterinary Medicine, feet are vital tools for a vulture, not only for landing and walking but also for holding their prey – their feet have to withstand various loads.

“The bird could not survive long in its current condition.  So we designed and fabricated a special bone implant that could be surgically attached at the stump,” said Prof. Aszmann.

Mia began attempting to walk within three weeks of the surgery, and was putting her full weight on the foot after six weeks. Today the bearded vulture can once again land and walk using both feet.

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