Prosthetic hand gives sensory feedback
18 February 2013
The École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland,
is developing smart prosthetics that connect directly to the nervous
system. The benefits are more versatile prosthetics with intuitive motor
control and realistic sensory feedback, which could 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, Silvestro Micera, Head of
the Translational Neural Engineering Laboratory at EPFL and
Professor at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Italy, has reported
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
to grasping could indeed be extracted. That information was then
used to control a hand prosthesis placed near the subject but not
physically attached to the arm of the amputee.
At AAAS in Boston, Micera also described his recent activities to
improve the efficacy of this approach and announces a new clinical
trial starting soon as part of the Italian Ministry of Health's
NEMESIS project, under the clinical supervision of Prof. Paolo M.
This new trial carries this research a step further by connecting
the prosthetic hand directly to the patient for the first real-time,
bidirectional control using peripheral neural signals. Though
results are not yet available, the researchers hope to find still
further improvement in the sensory feedback and overall control of
the prosthetics with this new method.