For an amputee, replacing a missing limb with a functional prosthetic can alleviate physical or emotional distress and mean a return of vocational ability or cosmetics. Studies show, however, that up to 50 percent of hand amputees still do not use their prosthesis regularly due to less than ideal functionality, appearance, and controllability. But Silvestro Micera, of the cole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, is paving the way for new, smart prosthetics that connect directly to the nervous system. The benefits are more versatile prosthetics with intuitive motor control and realistic sensory feedbackin essence, they could one day return dexterity and the sensation of touch to an amputee.
At the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, Micera reports the results of previous work conducting a four-week clinical trial that improved sensory feedback in amputees by using intraneural electrodes implanted into the median and ulnar nerves. This interface holds great promise because of its ability to create an intimate and natural connection with the nerves, and because it is less invasive than other methods. It also provides fast, intuitive, bidirectional flow of information between the nervous system and the prosthetic, resulting in a more realistic experience and ultimately improved function.
"We could be on the cusp of providing new and more effective clinical solutions to amputees in the next years,"
says Micera, who is Head of the Translational Neural Engineering Laboratory at EPFL and Professor at the
Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Italy.
Micera and colleagues tested their system by implanting intraneural electrodes into the nerves of an amputee.
The electrodes stimulated the sensory peripheral system, delivering different types of touch feelings. Then the
researchers analyzed the motor neural signals recorded from the nerves and showed that information related
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Ecole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne