The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) declared May 3-9 to be National VA Research Week 2009. The week’s theme, “Turning Hope Into Reality,” was highlighted when researchers and developers announced the kick-off of a three-year study of what may be the world’s most advanced arm prosthesis under development.
The device—sometimes dubbed the “Luke Arm” after the prosthesis worn by Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films—includes fully articulated shoulder, elbow, wrist, and finger components that can work simultaneously to mimic the smooth arcs of natural gestures. Its hand senses pressure, which translates to a belt that buzzes more or less depending on the amount of pressure the hand is expending. Foot pads in the wearer’s shoes currently control the eight-pound arm, but designs for myoelectric controls are underway.
According to the VA, the arm has been under development at the DEKA Research and Development Corporation, Manchester, New Hampshire for about 30 months, as a part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-sponsored Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009 (RP2009) program.
Frederick Downs Jr., director of the VA’s Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service, who lost his left arm during combat in Vietnam, said he was “brought to tears” recently when the DEKA arm allowed him to smoothly bring a water bottle to his mouth and drink.
“Currently, the best artificial arms you can get…don’t have powered shoulder flex, they don’t have… abduct function, and they don’t have the ability to run them all simultaneously,” said DEKA’s N. Christopher Perry, as he used the device to reach above his head while smoothly rotating its wrist.
“This arm is a high-tech example of how VA researchers are continually modernizing the materials, design, and clinical use of artificial limbs to meet veterans’ lifestyle and medical needs,” said Joel Kupersmith, PhD, the VA’s chief research and development officer.
On May 27, the VA announced that it will fund the impending three-year “optimization study,” which will allow engineers to refine the arm’s prototype before it is commercialized and made available through the VA healthcare system. The study will be the first large-scale testing of the arm, and the first large-scale clinical trial to play an integral part in the final design and development of a prosthetic device, says Michael Selzer, MD, the VA’s director of rehabilitation research and development.
“This arm is a high-tech example of how VA researchers are continually modernizing the materials, design, and clinical use of artificial limbs to meet Veterans’ lifestyle and medical needs,” says Joel Kupersmith, MD, the VA’s chief research and development officer.
The study will be conducted under the direction of Linda Resnik, MD, at the Providence, Rhode Island, VA Medical Center. Veterans fitted with the arm will provide feedback to guide engineers in refining the prototype before it is commercialized and also released to patients of the VA.