Thursday, July 26, 2007

Amputees get a new lease on limb control

July 25, 2007
Edition 1

Sergeant Juan Arredondo's son says his dad is "half robot, half man". The retired Iraq veteran is one of the first recipients of a bionic hand with independently moving fingers, called the i-Limb.
Each finger has an individual motor powering it, enhancing dexterity and allowing patients to do activities they were unable to do with previous prosthetics, such as shaking another person's hand and naturally grasping around round objects such as door handles, fishing rods and a computer mouse.

It contains a computer chip that translates electrical signals made by the arm's nerves into physical movement.

The device - developed at Touch Bionics in Edinburgh, Scotland - costs $60 000 to $150 000, depending on the length of the amputation.

According to USA Today, the i-Limb outshines its predecessors by "a long shot".

Troy Farnsworth, vice-president of Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, which markets the device in the US, says although it still does not have sensory or waterproof functions, it does empowers the user to use all five fingers.

Other bionic hands allow for the use of only the thumb, index and middle fingers.
"It works so much like a normal hand that it really bridges the gap" between prosthetic and real hands, he says.

Arredondo lost his hand on patrol in Iraq in February 2005, when an bomb blasted through the side of his vehicle.

As he leaped from the driver's seat, he noticed that his left hand was still clutching the steering wheel.

And this week US researchers unveiled a computerised prosthetic ankle and foot that could change the lives of a growing number of amputees returning from battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The prosthesis has a built-in power source and multiple springs to mimic a real human ankle, giving amputees more propulsion when walking, while reducing the limping and back pain commonly associated with existing prosthetic devices.

Garth Stewart, a 24-year-old US soldier who lost his left leg below the knee in a roadside explosion in Iraq in April 2003, demonstrated the device at the Veterans Affairs Medical Centre in Providence, Rhode Island and showed almost no sign of a limp.

"Once you get used to it," he said, "it feels like you have your leg back."

Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, and other bombs have caused a surge in limb-loss injuries among US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dr Hugh Herr, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who led the research, said the apparatus produced a sensation like that of a moving airport walkway.

"It's a smoother ride, if you will," said Herr, whose legs were amputated below the knee after a mountain climbing accident when he was 17. The ankle-foot prosthetic had been tested on eight amputees so far, he added.

The new device can generate its own momentum, meaning the user can put less effort into the act of walking. The prototype also has sensors and a microprocessor that measures walking speed, terrain and the body's position and adjusts the amount of power supplied accordingly.
It is expected to be made available commercially by iWalk.

John Stephens, vice-president of research and development at iWalk, said the company hoped to have the prosthetic available by next June.

- Daily Telegraph, Reuters

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