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A new kind of helping hand

Dr. Kevin Englehart and his team of engineers at the University of New Brunswick are creating a prosthetic hand. Lending a hand to someone in need takes spirit. But making a hand for those who require one takes innovation — and that’s just what Dr. Kevin Englehart and his team of engineers at the University of New Brunswick are realizing in the creation of a more life-like, nimble and cost effective prosthetic hand.

As members of UNB’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering,  Kevin’s team of talented innovators is leading the development of a new computer that, by interpreting muscle activity, will help tomorrow’s amputees have more natural motion and a better grip on objects.

It’s a natural development for a research team that already has an impressive track record in the field of prosthetics, including the development of new diagnostic tools to measure range of motion and a state-of-the-art arm that can move 27 different ways using a person’s muscles, nerve fibres and brain.

All of which are timely developments for the more than 10,000 amputees living in Canada today — including new military amputees returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

“This is such an exciting time in the field of prosthetics technology,” says Kevin. “With these emerging technologies, I think we’re becoming better poised to help improve the day-to-day life of amputees than ever before.”

And while the better functioning of prosthetic hands has been an important goal in their development work, the team has not lost sight of another objective — making a more accessible product for consumers.

“Few people can now really afford $100,000 for a life-like myo-electric limb that gives them a good range of mobility. With these new developments in prosthetics, we’re hoping to produce a more affordable option in the $20,000 range.”

As for Kevin’s team, now recognized as a world leader in biomedical engineering, he says they couldn’t have come together without the $2.9 million assistance they received through ACOA’s Atlantic Innovation Fund.

“In this field, good people are in high demand. We just could not have assembled and maintained the world-class researchers we have today without ACOA’s support,” says Kevin. “It’s allowing us to move from basic research to commercial development by keeping the expertise we need to see new products through to their successful use in the marketplace.”

And with testing of their new prosthetic hand soon underway in six rehabilitation clinics across North America, the team is that much closer to achieving their vision for improved lives for amputees.

Now that’s one team that certainly deserves a hand. 

Project: Development of a technologically advanced prosthetic hand
Proponent: Institute of Biomedical Engineering, University of New Brunswick 
Location: Fredericton, New Brunswick
Total AIF funding: $2.9 million – project announced in 2007
Total project costs: $4.3 million

Related website: www.unb.ca/biomed

See AIF news releases for these and other related projects:
January 2007 - http://mediaroom.acoa-apeca.gc.ca/e/media/press/press.shtml?3735

Click here to view a video conversation with Dr. Kevin Englehart, Director of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at UNB

Return to the Innovation at Work page

Published in February 2011.