Argentine prosthetic arm 1st in region to read muscle impulses

Slideshow ( 7 images )

SANTA FE, Argentina (Reuters) - A laboratory in the Argentine farm province of Santa Fe has developed what it calls the first prosthetic arm in Latin America to use sensors to respond to nerve impulses at a price that could radically expand the use of such devices.

The bionic skeleton of the prosthetic has a flexible claw-like hand consisting of a thumb, index and middle finger. It is covered with a lifelike glove that can sport rings, bracelets, nail polish, anything to lend a normal look while allowing wearers to perform such tasks as writing and washing dishes.

“It detects electrical signals that are generated by the muscles at the point of contact between the arm and the prosthetic,” said engineer Sebastian Vicario, who is working on the project for Bioparx Health Technology, based in provincial capital Santa Fe.

“The impulse is sent to a micro-controller that relays the signal to a motor that moves the hand,” Vicario added.

He said the price of the prosthetic, scheduled to hit the market next year, will be about $22,000, versus the average $47,000 fetched by similar devices already on the market. Bioparx hopes the relatively low cost will induce insurance companies to include the device in their coverage plans.

After years using a clunky mechanical prosthetic that allowed little dexterity, 53-year-old Stella Azambullo, who lost her right arm in an industrial accident, has been testing the device over the last two years.

“It’s nice to be able to do things that I have not been able to, mainly stuff around the house,” she told Reuters. “I can finally move freely. Not 100 percent, but mostly.”

(story corrects spelling of surname Azambullo in penultimate paragraph)

Reporting by Miguel Lobianco; Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Steve Orlofsky