After losing his back feet to a combine harvester, Oscar the cat thought he would never walk again, but we can rebuild him. We have the technology.
Noel Fitzpatrick, a veterinary surgeon based in Surrey, England, is the subject of a BBC documentary titled The Bionic Vet, and for good reason. Working in tandem with a team from University College London led by Professor Gordon Blunn, Fitzpatrick may have revolutionized the field of prosthetics by implanting metal pegs into the leg bones of a black cat.
What's so special about implanting metal pegs? Nothing at all, if you're expecting infection and eventual rejection. Bone and skin generally don't mesh well with metal.
But these metal pegs, called intraosseous transcutaneous amputation prosthetics, or Itaps, actually have the bone and skin growing into them. Says Fitzpatrick:
"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."
The pegs were bioengineered to mimic the way deer antler bones grow through skin.
While the technology has already been tested on humans, with a female victim of the 2005 London bombings receiving a prosthetic arm, the fact that Oscar the cat has two successful implants is astounding.
But not as astounding as the fact that he can actually walk on them moments after having his new feet connected.
It's moments like this that make me proud to be writing science posts, even on my day off.
And for those of you who don't care for adorable cat stories, ponder this question: What else could we attach to those pegs? Guns? Lasers? Portal springs? It's like having a living cat action figure with interchangeable parts. The possibilities are diabolically endless!