New research at the University of Chicago is laying the groundwork for touch-sensitive prosthetic limbs that one day could convey real-time sensory information to amputees via a direct interface with the brain.
The research, published early online in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, marks an important step toward new technology that, if implemented successfully, would increase the dexterity and clinical viability of robotic prosthetic limbs.
"To restore sensory motor function of an arm, you not only have to replace the motor signals that the brain sends to the arm to move it around, but you also have to replace the sensory signals that the arm sends back to the brain," said the study's senior author, Sliman Bensmaia, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago.
"We think the key is to invoke what we know about how the brain of the intact organism processes sensory information, and then try to reproduce these patterns of neural activity through stimulation of the brain." Bensmaia's research is part of Revolutionizing Prosthetics, a multi-year Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project that seeks to create a modular, artificial upper limb that will restore natural motor control and sensation in amputees.
Managed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, the project has brought together an interdisciplinary team of experts from academic institutions, government agencies and private companies. Bensmaia and his colleagues at the University of Chicago are working specifically on the sensory aspects of these limbs.
In a series of experiments with monkeys, whose sensory systems closely resemble those of humans, they identified patterns of neural activity that occur during natural object manipulation and then successfully induced these patterns through artificial means.
[Read Full Article: A blueprint for restoring touch with a prosthetic hand ]