ARTIFICIAL LIMBS WORK EARNS AWARD
20 JUNE 2012
FREDERICTON – A UNB scientist who has been instrumental in moving artificial limb technology into the brave new world of bio-engineering is being recognized with a career achievement award.
Kevin Englehart, associate director of the University of New Brunswick’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering, will be given the award at the annual conference of the Canadian Medical and Biological Engineering Society in Halifax this week.
Englehart described the Outstanding Canadian Biomedical Engineer
award as “a pat on the back” that he will accept on behalf of his fellow
researchers at the university.
“It’s kind of awkward to accept something on an individual basis because everything we do is as a team,” he said in an interview at his UNB laboratory on Tuesday.
“I’ve got an amazing group of people I have worked with for years here, so if I can accept on their behalf, then I’m very honoured.”
Englehart is internationally recognized for his pioneering work on bio-prosthetics.
He is at the forefront of researching how the brain communicates with muscles. He and his research team are developing prosthetic limbs that use complex computer algorithms to decode information from muscles to artificial limbs.
The result is prosthetics that are easier and more natural to use.
He has helped develop a highly dexterous bionic arm, has partnered with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and, most recently, collaborated on the development of the UNB prosthetic hand.
“We have really moved to transferring our new artificial limb technology to clients,” he said. “We are in the process of actually fitting this next generation bionic hand, first to our own clients, and then eventually to other clinics.”
Englehart said early reports on the prosthetic hand from clients are very encouraging.
“It’s still at the point where it looks like a lab hand but the way it moves is much more natural than anything out there now.”
Englehart said the most exciting development for him has been the progress in fine-tuning the man-machine connection.
“The way that we decode the information from the muscles has really progressed from something that has been on the engineering drawing board for years to something that is being very widely adopted around the world,” he said.
“For me, personally, that is the really exciting part because it has gone from being just an engineering curiosity to something that other clinics and prosthetic companies want. This probably will be the next big jump in the function of these devices because of this more advanced man-machine interface that we have developed.”
Englehart said work already is well underway on the development of bionic legs as well as arms and hands.
He said an important aspect of the work is finding ways to make advanced artificial limbs more affordable – less than $10,000, for instance, for the bio-hand.
“Our goal was to develop something that retained as much function as possible but at a price point where insurance companies could actually get behind it and make it accessible to anybody who needs it,” Englehart said.