GWEN IFILL: Now: offering higher education to those who have served. Many Americans join the military right out of high school. And once they return, some colleges are now giving them a chance to learn at the country’s top-tier schools. Special correspondent Jackie Judd reports for our weekly education series, Making the Grade. JACKIE JUDD: This was the classroom that taught Nicole Leadenham the lessons of war during deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. NICOLE LEADENHAM, Army Veteran: I left for basic training 10 hours after I graduated high school. So that was going to be what I was going to do. JACKIE JUDD: Today, this is the 34-year old’s classroom, Vassar College in New York’s Hudson Valley. NICOLE LEADENHAM: I think that this is the time that I was meant to be here, at this stage in my life. I can really take advantage of the academics and, you know, learning. JACKIE JUDD: Leadenham, a junior and one of 30 post-9/11 vets at Vassar, is here because president Catharine Hill wanted to somehow close the education gap between young people who go off to elite campuses like this one and those who enlist and go off to fight the wars. CATHARINE BOND HILL, President, Vassar College: More of the young men and women who are enlisting are coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. And it just seems to me that part of the reward or the return for doing that is that they get access to education when they come back. JACKIE JUDD: Did you feel that this grateful nation notion, was it words and not action? CATHARINE BOND HILL: I think the evidence absolutely suggested that it was words and not action. JACKIE JUDD: The Veterans Administration says more than one million vets are using G.I. benefits. Most attend public or for-profit schools. The number at top-tier colleges and universities is so small, it is not even known. A few years back, Vassar invested in a campaign to attract veterans to apply. None did, even though their education would have been fully paid for. So, the college turned to the Posse Foundation, which is expert at reaching nontraditional students. For 25 years, it’s been sending groups, or posses, of students to elite colleges, students with academic and leadership potential who don’t fit the mold. Founder Debbie Bial thought the same model would work for veterans. DEBBIE BIAL, The Posse Foundation: Posse is about helping the top colleges and universities think about how to build a diverse student body, how to get as rich a dialogue going on campus as they possibly can, how to create community and build bridges across the various communities on campus. It made sense to us to include a piece of our population that served the country. MICHAEL SMITH, Posse Student, Wesleyan University: I think it’s going to allow for the trajectory of my life to be more vertical, by virtue of being here. JACKIE JUDD: Posse veteran Michael Smith, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side, is a sophomore at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. That school joined the program two years ago. MICHAEL SMITH: By virtue of the educational experience I’m getting, by virtue of the skills I’m developing, and by virtue of the resources that are — that I just wouldn’t have had access to. JACKIE JUDD: Before arriving on campus, the veterans go through a kind of boot camp in New York City. It is four weeks of preparing for rigorous academics, learning how to craft a college term paper, and team-building, so the veterans know that, once they get here, they have a circle of support if they need it. But there are still hurdles. Leadenham needed to brush up on some old, forgotten skills. NICOLE LEADENHAM: I had problems with knowing how to study. It’s a very tangible skill that I didn’t have anymore, and I couldn’t even remember how I had done it before. So, I had gone to my professors’ office hours, stuff like that, being like, how can I better absorb the material? JACKIE JUDD: Another Vassar vet, Eduardo De La Torre, lives off campus with his young family. As the leader of a first-responder medical unit in Iraq, he frequently faced life-and-death situations. With that past experience and his current family obligations, he admits that mixing with other younger students can be awkward. EDUARDO DE LA TORRE, Posse Student, Vassar College: They’re like, yes, we’re going to do a study group today. I will text you later. And the next thing you know, you’re getting a text at midnight: “Hey, we’re going to go meet up at the retreat to go study for like an hour over this.” So, it’s been difficult building relationships with the students. JACKIE JUDD: Wesleyan sophomore Bryan Stascavage found himself in the middle of a full-throated culture clash on the very liberal campus. Stascavage, an Iraq War veteran and a conservative, was vilified after writing a column for the college newspaper critical of Black Lives Matter. BRYAN STASCAVAGE, Posse Student, Wesleyan University: The veterans that live here at the house with me looked at me wide-eyed like, what did you do, what did you write? And I knew that the articles that I were writing were not the prevailing opinion on campus. And I knew that it was only a matter of time when, I like to say that I connect with a beehive. MICHAEL ROTH, President, Wesleyan University: Unlike a fighting unit, where you really need cohesion and you all have to point in the same direction, at a university, you can afford dissent and controversy, as long as you learn to listen while that’s going on. JACKIE JUDD: Though difficult in the moment, Wesleyan president Michael Roth says the episode ultimately was good for the community. MICHAEL ROTH: That’s what you want, because, if you’re learning to listen, you’re learning to learn. JACKIE JUDD: It became a teachable moment. MICHAEL ROTH: It became a very teachable moment. BRYAN STASCAVAGE: I don’t want to be in an environment where everybody thinks the same as me, because you just don’t learn that way. EDUARDO DE LA TORRE: I think the military is stereotypically seen as something very conservative, and being in a very liberal campus, you can feel shut off, and you can feel like my voice isn’t going to be accepted here, and it’s not going to be heard. JACKIE JUDD: Still, many of the younger, more traditional students clearly appreciate being exposed to the experience and world view of their ex-military classmates. MAGGIE KENNEDY, Studen, Vassar College: I think it’s great because it gives a lot of different perspectives, especially at a liberal school, where a lot of people maybe not pro-military, per se. YANIV YAFFE, Student, Vassar College: It’s easy to in a class criticize American foreign policy, for example. You know, we’re so distant from things like Iraq and Afghanistan, but when you have a soldier who has been there, it really changes the conversation. EDUARDO DE LA TORRE: A student came up to me and they said, “I really appreciate you talking about that, because your service reminded me of my grandfather, and he was a World War II vet, and it was really hard for him to talk about anything. And it just made me really appreciate your service and what you did for me.” That’s a meaningful gesture. JACKIE JUDD: A thousand veterans applied to Posse for the 30 slots in the next freshman class, which, along with Wesleyan and Vassar, will include Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Posse’s Debbie Bial expects that, in five years, about a dozen private liberal arts colleges will be a part of the program, giving other vets opportunities they never would have imagined, while also bringing their hard-won perspective to campuses previously shut off to military culture. The veterans also say the program has something to teach the entire country. NICOLE LEADENHAM: We’re capable of more than what we have been pigeonholed into. So, I think it’s important to know that we’re not just these broken people coming back, incapable of succeeding within society. JACKIE JUDD: A Vassar education has given Leadenham the confidence to plan for a future that includes helping other veterans find their own way back from the war. Credit > For the “PBS NewsHour,” this is Jackie Judd in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Credit Newswise A new study by a Brigham Young University professor has found that combat veterans' first marriages are 62 percent more likely to end in separation or divorce than other men's, a fact he hopes will be considered by defense policy-makers. "We found that combat experience is an important risk factor for divorce or separation," said Sven Wilson, an assistant professor of political science, whose study is reported in the new issue of the academic journal "Armed Forces & Society." "Traumatic experiences like combat seem to have a persistent impact on the ability of people to form and maintain successful relationships." Wilson and his fellow researchers compared divorce and separation rates between veterans who had seen combat and those who had not. The study analyzed the results of men's marriages throughout most of the past century, including before, during and after World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Wilson called for more research and for government officials to take a closer look at the total effect war has on the families of veterans. "The impact of war and military service on families of veterans is relatively understudied. A portion of these costs fall not just upon the men and women who serve, but upon those who stay home," Wilson said. "Do members of the military and their spouses need special counseling? Does the military need to more closely monitor what's going on in families? What kinds of support do veterans and their spouses need after their service ends? These are some issues that need to be added to the equation. We just don't know that much about them." Wilson used information from the National Survey of Families and Households, a nationwide study of more than 13,000 individuals conducted in the early 1990s. Using a statistical method called duration analysis, Wilson and his team examined the relationship between military service and men's first marriages, controlling for year and age at marriage, religion, socioeconomic status, education and other social variables. Surprisingly, marital dissolution rates are highest for Korean War veterans, not for Vietnam veterans as is commonly thought. The findings indicate that Vietnam veterans were 28 percent more likely to divorce than non-veterans from the same time period, but Korean War vets were 45 percent more likely to divorce over the subsequent 10 years than were non-veterans in their era. "There is a notion that Korea was much like World War II, but that Vietnam really messed people up," Wilson said. "We find quite the opposite. It's true that Vietnam vets were getting divorced at high rates, but so was everyone else at the time. We suspect that people often ignore general social trends when thinking about the effects of the Vietnam War." Veterans who married following the Korean and Vietnam Wars had significantly higher rates of marital dissolution when compared to non-veterans and World War II veterans. "After controlling for things like combat, age and religion, the effect of serving in Korea was more than twice as high as it was in World War II. There was a real sea change between World War II and Korea," Wilson said. Wilson says the results need to be interpreted in light of overall trends in marriage stability. "Starting in the '60s and continuing through the early '80s there was an unraveling of marriage and the social fabric in general," Wilson said. "For veterans it looks like this started much earlier than we would have anticipated."
Credit Newswise — Military veterans who report having common financial problems, such as bouncing a check or going over their credit limit, are four times more likely to become homeless in the next year than veterans without such problems. Furthermore, money mismanagement by itself made a significant contribution to predicting higher odds of subsequent homelessness in veteran populations above and beyond other variables, according the study by the American Journal of Public Health. “On the one hand, it's data showing what seems intuitive — that if you don't manage your money well, you can become homeless. On the other hand, this link has not been demonstrated before in research to our knowledge — for veterans or non-veterans,” said Eric Elbogen, PhD, corresponding author of the study and associate professor of psychiatry in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and psychologist at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Elbogen and researchers from UNC, the Durham Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center and Duke University came to those conclusions after analyzing data from a random sample of more than 1,000 Iraq and Afghanistan War era veterans who responded to two waves of the National Post-Deployment Adjustment Survey between 2009-2011. Thirty percent of veterans in the survey reported that in the past year, they had gone over their credit limit, bounced or forged a check, had been reported to a collection agency, or had fallen victim to a money scam. A statistical analysis of the survey data showed that money mismanagement, along with arrest history, mental health diagnosis, and income, were associated with homelessness in the next year. Such findings have implications for reducing homelessness. “Case managers in VA homelessness programs often provide money management assistance to clients,” Elbogen said, “This study suggests that veterans in these programs can benefit not only from obtaining housing, but also from learning financial literacy skills to maintain housing and avoid future homelessness.”
Credit Newswise — According to preliminary research results from the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 15 percent of recently returned female veterans utilizing the VA health care system report experiencing sexual trauma during military service. The cross-sectional study, presented at the American Public Health Association's 136th Annual Meeting & Exposition in San Diego, examined health care screening data of over 100,000 veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) who utilized medical care at any Veterans Health Administration facility during a six-year period. Along with the more than one in seven women, 0.7 percent of males also reported having experienced military sexual trauma (MST). Both males and females reporting MST were more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health condition than patients who did not report MST. "These data highlight the importance of the VA's universal screening policy," said Joanne Pavao, MPH, a Department of Veterans Affairs researcher on the study, "as well as early intervention among veterans who have experienced sexual trauma, to prevent long-term consequences." VHA policy requires that all male and female veterans are screened for experiences of military sexual trauma and that free treatment for MST-related conditions is provided at all VA health care facilities. Session 4365.0 - Burden of mental illness associated with military sexual trauma among veterans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan
Credit Newswise — Veterans of all ages are involved in the troupe. Nate Stevenson Veterans work with theater professionals to produce Shakespeare's plays, giving them a chance to work through their own concerns as they rehearse and put on the production. Carissa DiPietro puts Shakespeare’s thoughts into her own words, but the meaning is similar: “I felt like I was surrounded by people who understood me and some of the things I’ve been through.” DiPietro is one of a group of military veterans who are using Shakespeare to work through their own challenges, under the guidance of two University of Wisconsin (UWM) theater professors. Their troupe, Feast of Crispian will be performing “Julius Caesar,” the weekend of Oct. 30-Nov. 1 in Milwaukee. Bill Watson, associate professor of theater, Nancy Smith-Watson, an actor and somatic body therapist, and Jim Tasse, senior lecturer in theater, founded the group as a way of helping veterans deal with depression, post-traumatic stress, addiction and reintegration into society. The name comes from the speech in Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” in which the king reminds his soldiers of their lasting bonds. Watson and Tasse, a veteran himself, volunteered their services to the Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VA), using rehearsal techniques developed and tested three decades ago by Shakespeare and Company in Massachusetts. The Watsons and Tasse, though, added their own unique approach to the use of Shakespeare’s texts -- a therapeutic intervention. They held their first workshop nearly three years ago, and have worked with more than 250 veterans since then, doing weekend theater boot camps and small presentations for family and friends. The current production of “Julius Ceasar” is the group’s first performance for the general public. “We wanted to try out the idea…to see if performing Shakespeare had any benefits, and we found that indeed it was having great benefit,” Tasse said. The statistics on challenges veterans face are eye opening: Each day, 22 veterans commit suicide and one-quarter of veterans end up homeless, said Watson. The Shakespeare approach works on a number of different levels. The veterans, who come from all branches of the service and range in age from early 20s to seniors, build a community of trust. “In acting, as in the military, everybody is important to the production,” Tasse said. “Everybody has to do their job. They are a brotherhood and sisterhood.” On another level, acting gives the veterans a chance to explore their own feelings through another character. “It’s an opportunity to tell our stories, safeguarded by the script,” said Johny Sherwood, a senior UWM theater major and veteran of Afghanistan. He volunteered to take part in the program after hearing about it while he was at the VA for non-combat related surgery. “You can go to the dark places within, but your own secrets are secure.” The very words of Shakespeare give the veterans a chance to contemplate their own issues. Many of the plays and scenes used in workshops look at conflict and violence. Jan Masalewicz, a Vietnam veteran who found Shakespeare boring in high school, has developed a new appreciation of the plays. “Things he wrote about in his plays are still true today… war and betrayal and love … all that stuff.”The veterans and the professionals who work with them spend time exploring the themes of the plays, talking about how they relate to their lives, sharing their own emotions when they feel comfortable doing that, and learning to express some of their feelings through acting. The professionals work with the veterans, explaining the Shakespearean language and going on stage with them to give them the lines so they can focus on conveying the characters’ emotions. While not everyone in the group suffers from trauma and stress, all find a level of comfort in working together with a group of fellow veterans on a challenging project. Chris Nickrant, who served in the Air Force from 1970-74, has been with the group through almost every workshop. “It’s definitely expanding my horizons. I’m learning to reach out to other people.” The current play has also inspired him to read more about Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Brutus and the assassination, he added. “You can go through counseling for years and years and not really reach into the emotional aspect until you do something like this,” said DiPietro. “I’m not really a crier, but I’ve cried in this group. That’s how safe I feel. It’s absolutely incredible.” “With this play, I have a purpose. Something I look forward to. Something to be excited about… I haven’t felt that way in a long time.”
Credit Newswise — One in four Gulf War veterans suffers from Gulf War Illness (GWI). The condition is characterized by unexplainable chronic fatigue, muscle pain and cognitive dysfunction and may be associated with exposure to chemicals, many identified as genotoxins, during deployment. Previous studies suggest that the symptoms of GWI are due to dysfunction of the mitochondria, the site in cells where molecules that power the body’s processes are produced. Not producing enough energy slows down the body and leaves the individual feeling tired. New preliminary research to be presented at Physiological Bionergetics: From Bench to Bedside shows for the first time direct evidence of greater mitochondrial damage in Gulf War veterans. The mitochondrion has its own DNA, separate from the cell’s, that encodes the proteins needed to produce the molecules that power the body’s processes. Damage to the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) directly affects the mitochondria’s ability to function and produce energy. Increases in the amount of mtDNA have been associated with disease. In this study, researchers measured the mtDNA amount and degree of mtDNA damage in blood cells from blood samples from veterans with GWI. Compared with healthy non-deployed controls, Gulf War veterans had more mtDNA content and greater mtDNA damage. According to the researchers, these findings further support that mitochondrial dysfunction may be involved in GWI. “Future studies are necessary to confirm these findings and determine their association with mitochondrial function. Work in this area may guide new diagnostic testing and treatments for veterans suffering from GWI,” the researchers wrote.
* Despite having access to health care, male veterans report poorer health than men in active duty, men in the National Guard and Reserves, and civilian men.* Men in the National Guard and Reserves were less likely to have health insurance than civilians, veterans or active duty servicemen.* Veterans and active duty servicemen report higher rates of smoking, tobacco use and drinking to excess than civilian men. Credit Newswise — Even with access to health care, male military veterans are in poorer health than men in active military duty, men in the National Guard and Reserves, and civilian men, finds a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study concluded that organizations that serve veterans should increase efforts at preventing poor health behaviors and linking them to health care services. The findings are from a 2010 survey of 53,000 veterans, 3,700 Guard and Reserve members, 2,000 active duty servicemen and 110,000 civilians. The survey included questions about their health and health behaviors, and their access to health care. A similar study of women veterans, National Guard/Reserve members, active servicewomen and civilians was published earlier this year by the same research team. "We think our research substantiates claims that veterans bear a disproportionate disease burden," said Katherine D. Hoerster, Ph.D., MPH, a research psychologist at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle. Survey results found that veterans were more likely than active duty men to report diabetes. Veterans were more likely to report current smoking and heavy alcohol consumption than men in the National Guard and Reserves and civilian men and a lack of exercise compared to active duty and National Guard and Reserve. National Guard and Reserve men had higher obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease (versus active duty and veteran men, active duty men, and civilian men, respectively). Active duty men were more likely to report current smoking and heavy alcohol consumption than civilians and National Guard and Reserves, and reported more smokeless tobacco use than civilians. While the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) addresses these common health concerns, Hoerster noted that only 37 percent of eligible veterans receive care through the VA system of hospitals. In addition, National Guard and Reserve servicemen were found to be the least likely of the groups to have access to health care. The researchers advised that other health care providers need to be aware of the prevalence of these health issues facing Guard and Reserve servicemen and veterans. The finding that National Guard and Reserve members have poorer access to care should be addressed, Hoerster added. "This is an important military sub-population to target." One factor may be that members of the National Guard and Reserves are not linked up to services provided by the VA as effectively as active duty service members are when they leave the military, she noted. The greater prevalence of heart problems and diabetes reported by these servicemen makes poor access to care even more problematic, she said. Increased rates of tobacco and alcohol use reported by active duty servicemen can lead to greater health problems for this group in the future, Hoerster said. "Addressing tobacco and alcohol use should also be a top priority." Other research has suggested that veterans have a higher disease burden because of their military service, said Joy Ilem, deputy national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, an organization that serves veterans and provides assistance in learning about and applying for benefits. However, it is surprising that this study found that veterans have poorer health outcomes and poorer health behavior than other groups given the emphasis that the VA puts on prevention of disease and promotion of a healthy lifestyle, Ilem observed. "Not all vets have a connection to the VA system, but they may need one in the future," she added. Veterans who have health issues directly related to their service are more likely to use VA facilities and are more likely to be sicker than the overall population of veterans, Ilem added.
Credit Newswise — An estimated 15-20 percent of U.S. troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from some form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) sustained during their deployment, with most injuries caused by blast waves from exploded military ordnance. The obvious cognitive symptoms of minor TBI -- including learning and memory problems -- can dissipate within just a few days. But blast-exposed veterans may continue to have problems performing simple auditory tasks that require them to focus attention on one sound source and ignore others, an ability known as "selective auditory attention." According to a new study by a team of Boston University (BU) neuroscientists, such apparent "hearing" problems actually may be caused by diffuse injury to the brain's prefrontal lobe. "This kind of injury can make it impossible to converse in everyday social settings, and thus is a truly devastating problem that can contribute to social isolation and depression," explains computational neuroscientist Scott Bressler, a graduate student in BU's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, led by biomedical engineering professor Barbara Shinn-Cunningham. For the study, Bressler, Shinn-Cunningham and their colleagues -- in collaboration with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder expert Yelena Bogdanova of VA Healthcare Boston -- presented a selective auditory attention task to 10 vets with mild TBI and to 17 control subjects without brain injuries. Notably, on average, veterans had hearing within a normal range. In the task, three different melody streams, each comprised of two notes, were simultaneously presented to the subjects from three different perceived directions (this variation in directionality was achieved by differing the timing of the signals that reached the left and right ears). The subjects were then asked to identify the "shape" of the melodies (i.e., "going up," "going down," or "zig-zagging") while their brain activity was measured by electrodes on the scalp. "Whenever a new sound begins, the auditory cortex responds, encoding the sound onset," Bressler explains. "Attentional focus, however, changes the strength of this response: when a listener is attending to a particular sound source, the neural activity in response to that sound is greater." This change of the neural response occurs because the brain's "executive control" regions, located in the brain's prefrontal cortex, send signals to the auditory sensory regions of the brain, modulating their response. The researchers found that blast-exposed veterans with TBI performed worse on the task -- that is, they had difficulty controlling auditory attention -- "and in all of the TBI veterans who performed well enough for us to measure their neural activity, 6 out of our 10 initial subjects, the brain response showed weak or no attention-related modulation of auditory responses," Bressler says. "Our hope is that some of our findings can be used to develop methods to assess and quantify TBI, identifying specific factors that contribute to difficulties communicating in everyday settings," he says. "By identifying these factors on an individual basis, we may be able to define rehabilitation approaches and coping strategies tailored to the individual." Some TBI patients also go on to develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) -- a debilitating progressive degenerative disease with symptoms that include dementia, memory loss and depression -- which can now only be definitively diagnosed after death. "With any luck," Bressler adds, "neurobehavioral research like ours may help identify patients at risk of developing CTE long before their symptoms manifest."
Credit Newswise — When members of the U.S. military leave the service, they tend to settle in neighborhoods with greater overall diversity than their civilian counterparts of the same race, according to a new study that was presented at the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA). “It’s encouraging that having served in the military appears to have a long-term impact on how people choose their neighborhoods,” said study co-author Mary J. Fischer, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. “According to the social contact hypothesis, racial attitudes are improved and stereotypes are broken when diverse groups come together under circumstances that promote meaningful cross-group interaction, such as in the military.” Using data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act on 13 million home mortgage loans from 2008 to 2013 across 98 metropolitan areas, the study represented the first and largest examination of residential integration among white, black, and Latino homeowners. The researchers compared conventional mortgages with Veterans Affairs mortgages to determine differences in residential patterns between veterans and civilians, and controlled for a number of variables that could explain where people lived, including partnership status, income, and metropolitan characteristics. U.S. cities remain highly segregated by race despite several decades of laws against discrimination in housing and lending, according to Fischer. “One of the reasons racial segregation may self-perpetuate is that many whites have grown up in homogeneous communities and thus are more prone to rely on stereotypes to understand out-groups,” Fischer said. Fischer and her co-author Jacob S. Rugh, an assistant professor of sociology at Brigham Young University, note that making decisions on where to live after serving in the military is a strong test of the premise that prolonged interracial contact will have a positive effect on long-term intergroup relationships. Fischer said this study along with related research she is working on with colleagues contribute to society’s understanding of the potential longer-term effects of military service on race relations.
Credit Newswise — To the nearly 2 million people in the U.S. living with the loss of a limb, including U.S. military veterans, prosthetic devices provide restored mobility yet lack sensory feedback. A team of engineers and researchers at Washington University in St. Louis is working to change that so those with upper limb prosthetics can feel hot and cold and the sense of touch through their prosthetic hands. Daniel Moran, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science and of neurobiology, of physical therapy and of neurological surgery at the School of Medicine, has received a three-year, nearly $1.9 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to test a novel device his lab developed that would stimulate the nerves in the upper arm and forearm. If it works, upper-limb amputees who use motorized prosthetic devices would be able to feel various sensations through the prosthetic, which would send sensory signals to the brain. DARPA is already funding the “Luke Arm,” a high-tech bionic limb created by DEKA Research. The prosthetic, named for “Star Wars” character Luke Skywalker, who received a prosthetic after losing his right hand in an epic battle with Darth Vader, is designed to help servicemen and women and veterans who had upper limb amputations. While the advanced prosthetic arm allows users to perform six different grips, such as picking up small objects, it does not provide users with the senses of touch and orientation of a natural hand. Moran, whose expertise is in motor neurophysiology and brain-computer interfaces, and his team have developed an electrode designed to stimulate sensory nerve cells in the ulnar and median nerves in the arms. The ulnar nerve, one of three main nerves in the forearm, is the largest nerve in the body unprotected by muscle or bone and is connected to the ring finger and pinkie finger on the hand. It’s the nerve that is stimulated when you hit your elbow on something and trigger your “funny bone.” The median nerve in the upper arm and shoulder is connected to the other fingers on the hand, so together, the two nerves control movement and sensations including touch, pressure, vibration, heat, cold and pain in all of the fingers. People using arm prosthetics have to rely on their vision to use them properly, Moran says. To pick up a cup of coffee, they have to be able to see the cup, place the fingers of the prosthesis around it and lift it. They are unable to feel whether the cup is in their hand, if the cup is hot or cold or if they are about to drop it. By enabling the ability to feel, users will have more control over the prosthesis. Moran and his team, which includes Harold Burton, PhD, professor of neurobiology; Wilson (Zach) Ray, MD, assistant professor of neurological surgery, both at the School of Medicine; and Matthew MacEwen, who will graduate with an MD/PhD in May 2015 and worked on this project for his dissertation, have developed a macro-sieve peripheral nerve interface designed to stimulate regeneration of the ulnar and median nerves to transmit information back into the central nervous system. Ray will implant the device — which is made of an ultrathin, flexible material similar to a soft contact lens and is about 1/8th the size of a dime — into the forearms of anesthetized nonhuman primates. The research team will then determine the amount of sensory information that is encoded by providing low levels of stimulation to small groups of nerves. The device, which looks like a wagon wheel with open spaces between the “spokes,” allows the nerve to grow. Ray also will implant a small cuff electrode, the current standard of care, to compare the performance. Once implanted, Moran and the team will train the nonhuman primates to play a joystick-controlled video game in which the team will give them cues as to where to move the joystick by stimulating specific sectors in the ulnar and median nerves so it feels as if someone is touching them, Moran said. Their reward for advancing through the various stages of the game successfully is fruit-flavored juice. “We want to determine what they can perceive through artificial stimulation of the nerves,” Moran says. “If we stimulate a particular sector of the nerve, that tells them to reach to a specific target. Using very low levels of stimulation (i.e. sensation), we want to figure out how many different nerve sectors we can independently encode with a unique target location.” In particular, Moran and the team will analyze how many different independent channels they can stimulate on the nerve to determine how many sensors will work on the prosthetic hand. Using a method called current steering, they can move different amounts of current around the nerve to activate different sectors to connect the touch sensors on the hand to a different sector on the nerve. His team has already had success with this method in motor neurons in a rat model. “If this works to stimulate motor neurons in muscles, we can certainly stimulate sensory neurons, and that’s never been done in a behavioral model in nonhuman primates,” Moran says. Burton, an expert in sensory neurophysiology, will analyze how the brain processes the feedback from the nerve stimulation. “The more real estate the brain uses, the more processing power and the more important something is,” Moran says. “The hand area in the somatosensory cortex is a big piece of brain, so there should be a lot of bandwidth. We think we’ll be able to send a lot of information to it.” Moran and his team will work with DARPA to determine how many sensors to put on the prosthetic hands. “If the nervous system can’t handle more than eight or 10 channels, there is no sense in putting more on there,” he says. “We want to find the bandwidth and what the nervous system can interpret with artificial sensation.” The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 91 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, more than 900 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.