A U.S. government agency has hired University of New Brunswick researchers to help develop the most advanced prosthetic limbs ever, ones that function like human limbs.

Within two years, the university's Institute of Biomedical Engineering hopes to have developed a limb that allows for control of the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand at the same time.

In four years, they hope to have prosthetic limbs functioning just like a regular human limb.

The U.S. defence agency that awarded the contract is contributing $50 million to the project over the next four years.

Kevin Englehart, associate director of the institute, said advances in medical technology make it possible to construct artificial limbs of this calibre.

"We're at the point now where you can transfer nerves, embed electronics into the body, and it will actually measure biological signals in a reliable way," said Englehart. "I wouldn't have said that was possible five years ago."

Joey Harding, who lost a hand to frostbite after a snowmobile accident in 1998, would welcome a development of this kind.

Harding, 23, has a prosthetic hand, but he said it's not much use to him in the construction business.

"The excavator that I use doesn't actually work if I have my prosthesis on, because there isn't much wrist movement in it," he said. "So I go about my work without using it."

Englehart said they hope to have a prototype of the prosthetic limb ready by next spring.