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Neuroengineering in Ecuador

Back in May, David Krupa, an alumnus of Illinois, had returned to receive an international humanitarian award for his co-founding of the Range of Motion Project (ROMP). The Range of Motion Project (ROMP) is a registered 501(c)3 organization that provides prosthetic and orthotic care to those who do not have access to these services. Since 2005, the organization has provided over 1000 prosthetic and 3000 orthotic devices to patients throughout the Americas. ROMP maintains a locally-staffed, fully-operational prosthetic clinic in Zacapa, Guatemala in addition to operating programs in Ecuador and the United States. According to the WHO, roughly 80% of amputees live in low-income countries, while less than 3% of that population has access to appropriate rehabilitative care. ROMP believes in a more equitable distribution of prosthetic and orthotic care in the world, and by supplying the necessary services for complete rehabilitation, patients are able to rejoin society as active individuals able to contribute to their families and communities.


When David came, I had met up with him and told him about our lab's work (advised by Prof. Timothy Bretl) on upper limb prosthetic devices. We quickly established a collaboration and this summer I led a team of students in developing a low-cost 3D-printed prosthetic hand that can be controlled by the muscles in the forearm. The team was part of the Bretl Research Group and consisted of me--Aadeel Akhtar (MD/PhD Candidate, Neuroscience), Mary Nguyen (MS Candidate, AE), and six engineering undergraduate students: Patrick Slade (MechSE), Michael Fatina (ECE), Edward Wu (ECE), Alvin Wu (ECE), Sam Goldfinger (ECE), and Joseph Sombeck (BioE). In the last two weeks of the summer, Mary and I traveled to Quito, Ecuador, sponsored by the US Embassy in Quito, to work with David Krupa through ROMP in testing the device with patients.


What is special about the prosthetic that we built is that all the materials---including the electronics---cost less than $300. The average cost of a myoelectric (muscle-conrolled) prosthetic device is between $30000-40000, and the state of the art can go up to $100000. Furthermore, these commercial devices only give the user the ability to simply open and close their hand. We use machine learning and pattern recognition techniques to decode muscle signals for various grasping patterns as well, which allows users to not only open and close our hand, but also perform a three-finger grasp and a fine pinch. In Ecuador, we worked with Juan Suquillo, who has a below-elbow amputation on his left arm. He was successfully able to use pattern recognition to achieve the various grasps with our 3D-printed prosthetic device. We were featured on various national news outlets in Ecuador including two newspapers (La Hora and El Comercio), and 3 television channels (Gama TV, Teleamazonas, and RTS), which are linked below. We were also featured in a press release by the US Embassy in Quito, where we had US Ambassador to Ecuador, Adam Namm, control our prosthetic device