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War Stimulates Research Blitz in Prosthetics Industry

Soldiers losing limbs to enemy bombs are not new but today there is a growing industry catering to these soldiers who need artificial limbs .

Minnesota National Guard Sgt. Darrell "J.R." Salzman has learned to tie delicate trout flies with his mangled left hand and the shiny metal hook that serves as his right called Utah Arm - which the Army gave him.

The myoelectric Utah Arm, made by Motion Control Inc., of Salt Lake City, has circuitry that reads muscle twitches as electric signals to open and close a hook or hand attachment. But its response time, even at less than a second, is so slow that Salzman prefers an old-fashioned, "body-powered" prosthesis, controlled by a cable and rubber bands.

"I don't like having to wait if I want to grab something," Salzman said, deftly opening his hook to remove a fuzzy black fly from a vise. "If I want to grab this woolly bugger here, I don't want to have to wait; I want to just go and grab it."

Taking into account the kind of problems faced by these soldiers the Defense Department has contracted with a group of researchers and prosthetics manufacturers to build a thought-controlled arm at a cost of $30.4 million - part of at least $70 million the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs have committed since 2001 to develop better artificial limbs.

Many companies have received grants to develop better limbs that can be used not only by the war amputees but also the civilian amputees.

Today's approximately 600 war amputees account for only a tiny fraction of the 1.9 million Americans living with limb loss, leaders of the nation's $900 million prosthetics industry say the government's investment will be seen less on their balance sheets than in the sophistication of newfangled prostheses.

The military and VA, which provides lifelong care for veterans, are buying more prosthetic products and services. For example, the VA said
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