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How prosthetics went from peg legs to biolimbs

Last week, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital announced something pretty amazing: they’d grown a rat leg in a petri dish.

Their “biolimb” was the result of a two-step process. First, they took a rat arm and used a detergent to remove the soft tissue, leaving a bone and collagen scaffold. Then they took cells from a different rat and used them to seed new tissue, which eventually proliferated and filled in the rest of the arm.

Eventually, if they can adopt this sort of technology for humans, it could allow for hand, arm, and perhaps someday leg transplants without risking the patient's body rejecting the new limb.

This is at least a decade away — but the new discovery is just the latest in a series of remarkable advances in prosthetics over the past few decades. Already, scientists and engineers have developed artificial limbs that allow people to perform fine motor movements, participate in extreme sports, and compete in the Olympics. Some of the latest technologies even let people control these limbs with their minds.

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