A budget bionic arm that reads nerve impulses is set to give amputees in Argentina more freedom at an affordable price. Amy Pollock reports.
Stella Azambullo lost her right arm in an industrial accident. Now after years of limited dexterity, she's testing this low-cost bionic arm which helps her perform everyday tasks. The flexible claw-like hand has a thumb, index and middle finger. Covered in a skin-like glove, it looks indistinguishable from Stella's real arm. Sensors in the bionic limb detect electric signals from moving muscles. The signal is relayed to a motor that opens and closes the hand. Project engineer Luciana Joliat teaches patients like Stella how to use the device. BIOENGINEER IN CHARGE OF PROSTHETIC/PATIENT FUNCTIONING, LUCIANA JOLIAT, SAYING: "I work directly with the patient and the stump to look for the strongest myoelectric signals before voluntary contractions. I train the patient to activate two muscle groups to activate the opening and closing sensors, to direct the prosthetic and make open and close." Stella can now perform tasks that were impossible with her clunkier mechanical prostheses. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) PATIENT, STELLA AZAMBULLO, SAYING: "I'm doing very well. I'm happy to be able to do lots of things again, mainly things around the house, and also I'm happy aesthetically. Being able to go back to work has really helped me. I feel good and can move forward and start doing what I used to do." Developers Bioparx Health Technology says it's Latin America's first budget bionic arm with sensors that respond to nerve impulses. Bioparx director Ricardo Rodriguez says the device is more affordable than others on the market. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) ENGINEER AND TECHNICAL DIRECTOR OF THE PROSTHETIC ARM PROJECT, RICARDO RODRIGUEZ, SAYING: "We've achieved a cost around 50 percent less compared to similar models that we're competing with. This is important now that healthcare plans don't cover this kind of product." The company hopes the reduced cost will encourage insurance companies to include the life-changing apparatus in their coverage plans...and allow others to share Stella's good fortune.