Know your facts
One of the first things Jordan and I did was attend the Amputee Coalition's upper limb prosthetic session on current and expanding technologies.
I have to say, there still aren't as many huge advances in technology as I would have expected five and a half years into this experience. When Jordan was born, there was a lot of talk about bionics projects where researchers were looking at helping connect brain functions directly to a prosthetic. There are some brain wave studies, but it just doesn't seem to have gone as far as I expected. But I have to say... taking the time to learn the facts about prosthetics makes it a lot easier to know what is right for you or your child.
What I do know is the standard treatments for prosthetics revolve around myoelectrics and more manual harness systems. Jordan had a harness that wraps around her shoulder. When she tightens her shoulders, the hook hand opens and closes. Her elbow is maneuvered with her hand, but when she gets older, a different shoulder motion could control the elbow. We had a chance to see how different prosthetics can be used with the help of pictures and videos.
When it comes to myoelectric arms, the complaint I heard almost immediately was how they are heavy. (Jordan learned that when she had myoelectric arms when she was a baby.) The other complaints are how most myo hands do not have a strong enough grip to really get the job done. The most famous "hand" is the iTouch. Jordan checked it out during the conference expo. (She was only slightly curious.)
There are also rotations for a "wrist" and even humeral rotation that I had not even thought of until I heard how that was possible with some prosthetics. Jordan's prosthetist, David Rotter, was one of the presenters and he showed the details of what is available from finger prosthetics all the way up to above elbow and even for people who lost an arm up to his or her shoulder.
The hand with the most "buzz" during the conference was the Michelangelo hand from Otto Bock. It has a standard grip and when you really need it, you can flip a little switch and turn up the pressure on the hand to hold things tighter. There was a demo during the conference, but I didn't get to see it. I guess that's the down side of taking a small kid to a conference. You don't always get to see everything you want!
The myoelectric hand that seemed to garner the most positive reaction was one that looks like a claw hand - it's purpose is grip, not to look human since so far, most human-looking hands don't function well enough to really act like hands. Here's a picture of what I saw at least two women use and they said this one has a great grip:
We had a chance to learn about the latest lessons learned from the DARPA -funded Luke Arm project (it's also known as the DEKA arm) from Randall Alley who is the CEO of biodesigns. His company is working directly with the DEKA project. You may have seen a story about this project on 60 Minutes back in 2009. Researchers have built the third version of the arm and federal funding appears to be going away. The one element of research that peaked my interest was how the very heavy arm is able to be fit onto short limbs and maintain stability. Apparently you can create more compression onto the arm than you might think.
There's a technique called High Fidelity Interface that gives the limb more "skeletal stability" by holding on tightly. Alley said there's an increased range of motion with a compressed socket fit. You can read this news release about the technique and where it talks about Carly Davis and how it was used for her iLimb arm. I'd love to hear her take on this technique. I know Alley is looking at a number future options for his research and hard work. The High Fidelity Interface is something that could be commercialized. There are a number of other developments that I'll try to post soon that are coming out of Johns Hopkins University's DARPA work.