A new prosthetic limb called the DEKA Arm System has been approved by the FDA. The motorized prosthesis, similar to the one received by Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars series, can perform multiple tasks and simultaneous movements.
Sensors in the prosthesis and harness offer more motion with less thought and effort by the user. The DEKA Arm System is more advanced and aesthetically pleasing in appearance when compared to the metal hook or flesh tone versions currently available.
After reviewing data from accident victims and war veterans, the FDA granted approval for the new prosthetic arm. Ninety percent of the people who tested the DEKA Arm System performed more complex tasks. Such tests included users being able to feed themselves, use keys and locks, comb their hair, and being able to use zippers. The prosthetic can grasp objects as fragile as a grape and use tools such as a hand drill.
The newly approved prosthesis was developed by a New Hampshire base company called DEKA Research and Development Corporation. Its founder, Dean Kamen, also created the Segway. His corporation received more than $40 million in funding from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to improve the overall use of prosthetics.
The Pentagon’s involvement with DEKA Research and Development stems from an interest in helping service men and women who have suffered combat or training accidents. More than 1,800 American service members have lost all or part of an arm from battlefield injuries.
Justin Sanchez, a program manager with DARPA’s biological technologies office, said the new prosthesis was designed to recreate a natural upper extremity control for people who have suffered amputations. The DEKA Arm System has a similar size, weight, and gripping strength that an adult’s arm would produce.
The new prosthesis is the first that can complete multiple and simultaneous controlled movements. Elctromyogram electrodes in the arm detect activity from a user’s contracting muscles. Switches and sensors receive signals from a computer processor making it capable of 10 specific movements.
Christy Foreman, the director of Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA, praised the new prosthesis. The DEKA Arm System allows users to perform complicated tasks that more resemble the natural motion of the arm.
Until the approval of the DEKA Arm System, the best technology available to anyone losing an arm was a metal hook. The hook offered some functionality when compared to a plastic prosthesis. Metal hook arms have been the most commonly used prosthesis device for the past 100 years. The first large set of users was soldiers wounded during World War One. Since then, the metal hook has been modified with motors and sensors.
The DEKA Arm System can be used by people with an arm loss up to the shoulder joint. Other versions are available for amputations up to the mid-upper arm or mid-lower arm. Currently, there is no DEKA Arm System to replace arm losses to the elbow or wrist.
People needing the DEKA Arm System go beyond the military. Civilians lose an arm resulting from auto accidents or work site injuries. With FDA approval of the DEKA arm system, people who have an limb amputated will be able to have something more than an aesthetic plastic replacement or a motorized metal hook to help them grasp objects.
By Brian T. Yates