A three-legged mutt named Cassidy underwent experimental surgery at the N.C. State College of Veterinary Medicine last month -- a high-tech procedure that one day could help military veterans and other people who have lost limbs.

Cassidy was missing the lower part of his right hind leg when he was adopted by his New York owners. They were referred to the school in Raleigh, where Dr. Denis Marcellin-Little, an associate professor of orthopedics, and Dr. Ola Harrysson, an associate professor of industrial and systems engineering, have been blazing trails in the field of osseointegration. That's a process that fuses an artificial limb with an animal's bones in order to create a prosthesis that behaves more naturally.

The professors began their work on osseointegrated prosthetics in 2005 with a cat named George Bailey, who had been born without the lower half of his hind legs. Harrysson designed and built the prosthesis in collaboration with his students and Marcellin-Little, who performed the surgery. Since then, another cat has also undergone the technique.

Harryson and Marcellin-Little reportedly have their first human patient lined up -- a resident of the Virginia Beach, Va., area who could get the surgery within the next few years.

"The implications for this procedure are huge," said Marcellin-Little. "As we gain more experience with the surgical technique and the design of the limbs, we see the possible benefits for humans -- implants that allow the prosthetic limbs to attach without chafing or irritation, and limbs with more natural ranges of motion. We believe that this is the future of prosthetics."

The need for prosthetic limbs is great among veterans: About 900 of the 33,000 U.S. troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have lost at least one limb, according to the Pentagon.