U of I students create cheaper "helping hand" for amputees

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URBANA--A group of students at the University of Illinois is finding ways to lend a helping hand to amputees at a far more affordable price.

It makes the same movements as a human hand.
    
"They can do the open and close, they can do the fine pinch. They can do the three-fingered grasp, among other different gestures as well," said Aadeel Akhtar, an MD/PhD student at the U of I.

And for a fraction of the price of most prosthetics on the market.

"Those commercial prosthetic devices cost $30,000 to $40,000," said Akhtar. "And ours cost around $270 to make, so there's a huge price difference there."

Because when a small group of U of I students, better known as the Bretl Research Group, figured out how to send sensory signals that could mimic muscle movements late last year, it happened to coincide with the rise of printed plastic.

"We're able to leverage 3-D printing to make our device, number one a lot cheaper," said Akhtar, a member of the Bretl Research Group. "But also a lot more accessible to people around the world who need it."

So they took their prototype down to Ecuador this past summer, where they tested out their technology on a 30-year amputee, unsure of whether it would even work.

"We were very happy that it succeeded with him pretty much right away," said Mary Nguyen, another member of the Bretl Group. "So that was quite amazing actually."

They brought their hand back home so they could make it smaller, stronger, and able to sense touch. But they plan to head back to South America this winter, where they hope their modifications will have a lasting impact.

"We want to bring down something we can leave down in Ecuador," said Nguyen, a graduate student studying aerospace engineering.

And by next spring, they want to have a cost-efficient prosthetic available for patients to purchase.
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