Soon, prosthetic hand to be touch-sensitive
Washington – New research is laying the groundwork for touch-sensitive prosthetic limbs that could convey real-time sensory data to amputees via a direct interface with the brain.
Study’s senior author, Sliman Bensmaia, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago, said that they 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 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 indentified patterns of neural activity that occur during natural object manipulation and then successfully induced these patterns through artificial means.
The first set of experiments focused on contact location, or sensing where the skin has been touched. The animals were trained to identify several patterns of physical contact with their fingers.
Researchers then connected electrodes to areas of the brain corresponding to each finger and replaced physical touches with electrical stimuli delivered to the appropriate areas of the brain. The result: The animals responded the same way to artificial stimulation as they did to physical contact.
Next the researchers focused on the sensation of pressure. In this case, they developed an algorithm to generate the appropriate amount of electrical current to elicit a sensation of pressure. Again, the animals’ response was the same whether the stimuli were felt through their fingers or through artificial means.
The research has been published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.