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War Stimulates Research Blitz in Prosthetics Industry

it spent $1.1 million last year on prosthetic devices and services, compared with about $529,000 in 2000.

"The military expenditure on prosthetics is obviously booming, and it represents a more and more significant part of our business, but it is still only a small part of our business," said Ian Fothergill, clinical marketing manager for the North American division of Iceland-based Ossur hf., the world's second-largest prosthetics manufacturer. Ossur said sales of prosthetics grew by 12% worldwide and 17% in North America last year.

Wounded warriors historically have helped push the boundaries of prosthetic technology by demanding ever more functional, durable, comfortable devices. These days, the military aims to restore functionality to the point that some troops have returned to battle something virtually unheard of until now.

Germany's Otto Bock health care, the world's biggest manufacturer of prostheses, also has wartime roots. The company's founder and namesake "was considered a little bit like the Henry Ford of the prosthetic industry" for mass-producing devices for World War I veterans, said Brad Ruhl, vice president of sales at the company's North American headquarters in Minneapolis. The privately held firm now has annual sales of about $500 million, but Ruhl wouldn't reveal detailed financial data.

Bock's C-Leg, a microprocessor-controlled knee joint introduced in the late 1990s, is the standard prosthesis issued to U.S. fighters who have lost a leg above the knee, according to the American Orthotics and Prosthetics Association.

"We no longer have to be content just getting them on their feet; we can do more," said Kirk, of Bethesda-based Hanger.


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