In Memoriam: Melvin J. Glimcher, MD, Boston Arm Inventor


Melvin J. Glimcher, MD, passed away May 12. He was 88 years old.

Glimcher was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on June 2, 1925, and grew up in nearby Chelsea, Massachusetts. He joined a U.S. Marine Corps unit at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, where he continued his education and, after being discharged, earned two bachelor's degrees, one in mechanical engineering and one in science. He attended Harvard Medical School (HMS), Boston, Massachusetts, to work on his doctoral degree.

After graduating magna cum laude from HMS, Glimcher completed his clinical training in orthopedic surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital (Mass General), Boston, and Boston Children's Hospital. After also completing graduate school studies and research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Glimcher returned to HMS and became the first tenured chair in orthopedic surgery.


The Boston Arm.

In the early 1960s, Glimcher was an orthopedic surgeon at Mass General and also headed the amputee clinic at the Liberty Mutual Insurance (now Liberty Mutual Group), Hopkinton, Massachusetts. He had found in his work for Liberty Mutual that individuals with transradial amputations were using prostheses to recoup much more of their lost functioning than were individuals with transhumeral amputations. His frustration with existing devices for transhumeral amputees led him to put together a group of institutions to develop a myoelectric elbow. The first Boston Arm was a joint effort of the Liberty Mutual Insurance Research Institute for Safety, MIT, HMS, and Mass General to rehabilitate persons who had suffered upper-limb loss.

Among his other appointments, Glimcher served as a trustee of the Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, New York, and as a director of New England Sinai Hospital, Stoughton, Massachusetts. He was also awarded an honorary doctor of engineering degree by Purdue University in 2004.

Glimcher is survived by his daughters, Susan, Laurie, and Nancy; six grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.