Featured photo courtesy of Johns Hopkins University
More than forty years ago, Les Baugh lost both his arms in an electrical accident as a teenager. However, he is just one of two million people in the U.S.A. living with limb loss. Amputees are left with limited abilities, even with the use of prosthetics. The less prosthetics weigh, the less weight they are able to sustain. Furthermore, the ability of control and the dexterity of the devices vary wildly, making them far inferior to an actual limb or hand.
However, engineers at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory have designed a prosthetic arm that is fully functional. The arm is a dream come true to Les Baugh, who tested two arms simultaneously, and others like him. Using just his mind, he “went into a whole different world” by carrying out numerous tasks for the first time in a long time with the prosthetic limbs.
The arm is called the Modular Prosthetic Limb. True to its name, the M.P.L. can be broken down into parts to assist different needs- from a hand to an entire arm. This is all made possible by its 26 joints and one hundred-plus sensors. These sensors also allow for the user to feel with the arm.
In order for the sensors to work, however, Baugh underwent targeted muscle reinnervation, a “relatively new surgical procedure that reassigns nerves that once controlled the arm and the hand,” Surgeon Albert Chi, M.D. explained. This allowed engineers to create a “map” of his nerves and muscles, which are studied to create movements for the M.L.P.
Using these new, break-through technologies, the Johns Hopkins M.P.L. is a milestone for prosthetics and amputees. However, despite the huge success, it still has a long way to go before being released to the public. While the arm eliminates many of the common obstacles faced by amputees, it will cost $500,000 to manufacture. Plus, it will first need approval from the FDA. Regardless, Michael McLoughlin, Principal Investigator, has high expectations for the Modular Prosthetic Limb.
“I think we are just getting started,” he stated. “It’s like the early days of the Internet. There is just a tremendous amount of potential ahead of us, and we’ve just started down this road. And I think the next five to ten years are going to bring phenomenal advancement.”