The future is limb-itless: UCF creates bionic arms for children

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Most bionic prosthetics for amputees cost at least $10,000. Pair that with a constantly growing child and most parents of children with congenital limb difference can't even consider a robotic arm.

But one team that began at the University of Central Florida is working to change that

Dr. Albert Manero was tinkering with prosthetics at his kitchen table when the family of 7-year-old Alex Ping asked for help creating a full bionic arm.

Manero and his fellow engineering students took on the challenge, creating a 3D-printed robotic arm for Alex.

"After the first video aired, it went all the way around the world," said Manero, the president of Limbitless Solutions. "And we started receiving the same information from so many families saying that their child, too, needed some of that 3D hope."

The nonprofit Limbitless Solutions was born, providing 3D-printed limbs to 20 patients so far at no cost to the families, thanks to generous sponsors.

Engineers partnered with video designers to develop fun games to train children with their prosthetics. The arms have built-in sensors to move the many hand motors.

"The arms are actually controlled when the children flex their muscles," Manero said.

That's not the only reason children are loving their arms.

"They want it to be bold, colorful, creative," Limbitless Solutions branding director Mrudula Peddinti said. "It changed the conversion. Before, people would come up and ask what's wrong with you, and now, they change it to, 'Wow, that's such a cool arm. Where can I get one?'"

The company is creating high-tech arms that are every bit as unique as the child they've been designed for.

The hardware for each arm costs about $1,000. Their goal is to provide 5,000 bionic arms to children in need by 2020.

Limbitless Solutions is partnered with Oregon Health and Science University for a new clinical trial Manero hopes will lead to Food and Drug Administration approval and insurance coverage in the next year or two.

REPORT: MB #4564

BACKGROUND: Any kind of problem with how an arm or leg develops in the fetus can be classified as a congenital limb defect. In some cases, the limb has mild abnormalities, while in other cases it fails to develop at all. Symptoms of congenital limb differences can vary widely based on the nature of the condition. They can range from minor problems to very severe disabilities that can interfere with hand function or the ability to walk. A combination of genetic defects, environmental factors like chemicals or tobacco, smoke, or medications may all play a role in the formation of a congenital difference. Rehabilitation, physical therapy, braces, splints, surgery, and prosthetic/orthotic fitting can help people with congenital limb differences live the most fulfilling life possible. (Source:

3D PRINTED ARMS: Albert Manero, PhD, President of Limbitless Solutions and his team created a 3D printed robotic arm for children with congenital limb difference. He said, "We started working with children who had congenital limb difference because we found that they had the least amount of access available for a type of functional and cosmetic prosthetic device. One of the challenges is that before the ACA being born with a congenital limb difference was just considered a pre-existing condition, which makes things quite difficult. Coupled with high costs, the insurance companies weren't as likely to be going to reimburse a device that has to be replaced potentially every 18 months or as fast as a child can outgrow them. And you can imagine that it was deferred until they were maybe 18 years old, normally."

(Source: Albert Manero, PhD)

CLINICAL TRIAL: A clinical trial is underway to make FDA approval and insurance coverage an option. Manero explained, "We first partnered with Oregon Health and Science University which is in Portland, Oregon. They're one of the premier medical institutions on the West Coast. And their primary investigator Dr. Albert Chi is really quarterbacking this effort. They've approved the first pilot program which will be our first 20 kids in the program. They will receive one of the newest bionic arms that we can make. Then we'll go through an assessment period over the course of a year to able to assess both the quality of life impact as well as the effectiveness of the arm for them."

(Source: Albert Manero, PhD)