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Feel Brand New: Amazing Bionic Arm for Amputees

Posted by Bryan Potok on

Will Smith's character in “I, Robot” dons a cybernetic left arm to replace the one he lost in a car crash. Back in 2004 when the movie was released, this seemed to be the sort of thing that could only happen in the movies. Fast forward to 2018, and this revolutionary, sci-fi technology is finally within reach.

Amanda Kitts enjoys exploring all corners of the world with her husband.  In 2006, what was supposed to be an uneventful drive from work turned into a life-changing car accident—Amanda's car collided with a pickup truck and caused her to lose her arm. "His tire flew off and his axle came in through my window and ripped my arm off." Amanda not only lost her arm, she also lost the ability to perform everyday tasks. "Silly little things like putting toothpaste on a toothbrush, or even trying to put on a bra", were a few of Amanda's struggles.

New bionic arm to help arm amputee.

Associate Staff Scientist at Cleveland Clinic, Paul Marasco, PhD., thought that Amanda was the perfect candidate to try a prototype bionic prosthesis which restores the sense of touch and movement for upper limb amputees. One pre-requisite for candidates is that they should have undergone a targeted nerve reinnervation—a procedure that redirects amputated nerves to a new arm or chest muscle. 

Dr. Marasco explains, "when we vibrate those muscles, it provides an illusion of movement". Patients then can feel their hand moving in natural and complex ways, as if it were their very own connected limb, minimizing the feeling of a separate limb attached to their body.

As patients put on the prosthesis, it feels very natural; from opening and closing their fist, to feeling how hard they squeeze something, the prosthesis truly feels like it is part of the body. Amanda agrees with Marasco when he said that this allows amputees to feel less of a disconnect between their natural limb and their prosthesis, something that will hopefully allow amputees to perform everyday activities again, as if they never parted from their limbs.

“You know when you get a new sense that you haven’t had for so many years, it’s been 12 years since I lost my arm. It’s another movement towards having a real hand, having a real arm. It’s amazing actually.” Amanda explains.

While this technology is not yet available to the public, promising test results from patients like Amanda guarantee that once released, this prosthesis will change lives. In another trial with a bionic prosthesis, Gil Weinberg, a professor at the Georgia Tech College of Design, believes that in the very near future, these prostheses will allow amputees to do routine, everyday tasks “such as bathing, grooming and feeding”. Dr. Marasco is currently looking for ways to expand this technology to help those who have lost a leg.


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