One of the most advanced bionic prostheses ever made has been successful, an international team of scientists has reported. The system is integrated into a patient’s nerves, allowing them to control the prosthesis with just one thought, just like using a natural limb. Even better, it feeds the touch back into the brain. Three patients have been living with the system for several years.
The ground-breaking study was carried out by researchers from Chalmers Polytechnic University, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, the University of Gothenburg, Integrum AB, the Medical University of Vienna and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Unlike traditional sleeve prosthetics, which are essentially slotting at the limb’s remains, the new system is a neuro-muscle-bone prosthetic. This means it can be directly docked to nerves and muscles at the end of the limb, so users can control it with their own brain for realistic results.
According to the researchers, the feeling is so realistic that participants don’t even need to be trained to use it like many other devices. The prosthesis is surgically fixed to the rest of the patient’s limb and fixed to the bone to remain stable. Electrodes are implanted in muscles and nerves, allowing the user to open and close the hands and feel sensory feedback.
A force sensor is built into the thumb of the prosthesis to measure contact and pressure. The information is then transmitted to the brain, allowing users to feel how they feel when they come into contact with something, to know its characteristics, and to determine how strong lying they are. All of this is the key message for the prosthesis, making the prosthetic feel the same as the real thing.
The researchers say three Swedish patients have been living with the device for three to seven years. And so far, it has proved safe, stable and useful. This new sensing system can obviously be connected to a variety of prosthetic devices. With the success of the current study, the team hopes to extend the system to other regions and other types of prosthetics.