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Scientists Have Created A Prosthetic Arm That Lets Patients Feel Touch Again



Keven Walgamott using the LUKE to hold and move an egg (left) and pick grapes (right).
Photo: George, et al (Science Robotics)

Perhaps one of the most profound and underappreciated aspects of being alive is the ability to reach out to the world the face of a loved one. For those who have lost their hand or arm, prosthetics may or may not But scientists at the University of Utah say they've created some technology.

But according to the team, the sensations are people using them are limited and imprecise.

The technology is the result of a collaboration between several institutions, not just the University of Utah, according to Gregory Clark, a biomedical engineer and neuroscientist at the university. One major contribution by the University's researchers was the development of the Utah Slanted Electrode Array (USEA). The USEA, Clark told Gizmodo, provides an interface between a prosthetic hand and the user's remaining sensory and motor nerves in their arm;

"He reached out, putting his two hands together, moving them and rubbing them against one another, feeling with his prosthetic hand as if he were almost real, and feeling maybe almost whole again, for the first time in nearly 15 years. "

This happens through the surgical implantation. They can "record from (listen to) or stimulate (talk to) small subsets of nerve fibers very selectively, and reasonably comprehensively," Clark explained via email.

The prosthetic hand.
Image: George et al.,

The final results of the team's project with Walgamott were published Wednesday in Science Robotics.

When the interface was turned on (referred LUKE hand touched, but could not distinguish between touching something soft or hard. Walgamott to pull off surprisingly complex movements, like picking grapes, delicately lifting a fragile box, or stuffing a pillow into its case. Walgamott emotionally while using the LUKE.

Walgamott wanted to do the prosthesis at the end of a session, according to Clark, he simply said, "I want to clasp my hands together. "

" And that's exactly what he did. He reached out, putting his two hands together, moving them and rubbing them against one another, feeling with his prosthetic hand as if it were almost real, and feeling maybe almost whole again, for the first time in nearly 15 years, "Clark said

The team's prosthesis, while still impressive, is silent on imperfect imitation of the human arm and hand. The electrodes are used in the USEA. But a weaker facsimile of feeling would be still invaluable to patients, Clark noted. The device could not even break the frequency and severity of phantom limb pain experienced by many, as it seemed to Walgamott.

"We can not fully replicate nature's rich repertoire of sensation and perception," he said.

A major next step for the team is to improve on the design. They hope to create a portable version of the prosthesis, one that would be used at home. They therefore want to switch to wireless implants for the interface, which would not be less cumbersome for the user, but reduce the risk of infection or breakage.

It may take a few years at least for these methods and others to do so go off without a hitch. Clark noted

"To riff on the Luke Star Wars theme: That's a new-but-quite realistic-hope," he says. he said.


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