Although you’re not always aware of it, your brain is constantly relaying messages to different parts of your body, telling them what to do. And for people who’ve had certain kinds of arm amputations, prostheses are inching closer and closer to functioning like a real arm.
The same company that developed the Segway, DEKA Integrated Solutions, created the device called the DEKA Arm System, which recently got an FDA nod as the first approved prosthetic arm that translates signals from a person’s muscles to perform complex tasks. According to the FDA, the DEKA Arm System can be configured for people with limb loss occurring at the shoulder joint, mid-upper arm, or mid-lower arm. [Tweet this news!]
“It’s a game-changer compared to some of the old technology, says Matthew Albuquerque, a certified prosthetist and president and founder of Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics, Inc. “If you picture a person who’s amputated at the shoulder, with the current technology she’d have to move her shoulder, elbow, and hand in three separate motions. This new technology allows them to use them all at once, which is more natural looking and more functional as a result.”
Here’s how it works: Electrodes on the prosthesis attach to the surface of remaining arm or shoulder muscles. When you flex the muscle that would have been involved in moving your arm or fingers, electrodes send electrical signals to a computer processor in the prosthesis that translates them to a specific movement or movements.
Researchers found that among 36 amputees who used the prosthesis, 90 percent were able to perform household and self-care tasks they weren’t able to do with their current prosthesis, including using keys, preparing food and eating, using zippers, and brushing their hair. Wearers can even hold a cup of water, or pick up a credit card. In other words, this advance helps people become more independent than ever before.
“The FDA approval is the first thing needed before the prosthetics could be made available for the public. Next, DEKA will be finding a commercialization partner to assemble the arms and they’ll hopefully be available within a year," says Albuquerque.