Throughout history, replacement limbs, known as prosthetics, have been vitally important to people who have had amputations or lost a limb in an accident. However, prosthetics were clunky, uncomfortable, and difficult to move when walking or trying to grab objects.
Thanks to technological advances, prosthetics now fit residual limbs better, they allow for a better range of motion, and movement is no longer solely dependent on the wearer. Recent advances in prosthetics are examining magnetics and the brain to produce lifelike movements.
Prosthetic Advancement with Neuroprosthetics
Neuroprosthetics are artificial limbs controlled by the motor cortex of the brain. Electrodes that extend from the brain to the prosthetic help control it. When someone who is paralyzed or is missing a limb has the prosthetic in place, they can think about moving their limb and it moves.
A missing component of prosthetics holding people back is the sense of touch. Without being able to feel an object as they touch or hold it makes it impossible to move it in their hands. However,
researchers are trying to give patients with prosthetics some sensations in their limbs.
Is the Ability to Feel Next for Prosthetics?
Dr. Sliman Bensmaia from the University of Chicago is developing advanced prosthetics. Dr. Sliman Bensmaia is collaborating with the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to develop the somatosensory aspects of prosthetics.
The research works by having the team place electrodes in patients missing arms and stimulate their nerves through the electrodes. Patients who are tetraplegic, meaning they cannot voluntarily move their upper or lower body, would receive stimulation through electrodes in their somatosensory cortex.
The sensors attached to the patients produce information that complex algorithms can interpret into stimulation to brains or nerves. The stimulation can produce sensations or provide feedback that researchers can use to further the development of their prosthetics.
Although limited, sensory feedback results are encouraging. The research team hopes more sophisticated prosthetics will come about and give people more freedom of movement along with the sensation of touch.