To help people who have lost a limb due to accident, military service, or disease, replacing that limb with something as serviceable as possible is the ultimate goal of prosthetic researchers. For the amputee, a functioning bionic limb is perhaps the “Holy Grail” of limb replacement.
Last time, we revisited the subject of prosthetic bionics with haptic feedback technology, the first part of a three-part series directed to improving the lives of amputees with bionic technologies.
This week, we will continue this series with cutting-edge breakthroughs in neuroprosthetics, a technology that brings us one step closer to the truly bionic limb.
First, let’s get a quick definition: Neuroprosthetics is a discipline related to neuroscience and biomedical engineering concerned with developing neural prostheses, also called neuroprostheses. They are sometimes contrasted with a brain–computer interface, which connects the brain to a computer rather than a device meant to replace missing biological functionality.
Now, we need a second definition: Neuroprostheses are devices that use electrodes to interface with the nervous system and aim to restore function that has been lost due to spinal cord injury (SCI). Neuroprostheses can restore some motor, sensory, and autonomic functions by stimulating various parts of the nervous system including muscles, nerves, spinal cord, or the brain through functional electrical stimulation (FES).
To put it all together; this is a science that seeks to develop technologies that act as a substitute interface between the brain and motor or sensory function. So, if the subject has loss of motor control due to an accident or disease, neuroprostheses seek to restore that lost motor functionality through functional electrical stimulation (FES).
Stimulation with neuroprostheses
Stimulation of the nervous system has the potential to restore a number of functions that are impaired by SCI. Motor-based functional electrical stimulation (FES) uses electrodes to stimulate muscles or nerves to produce muscle contraction and restore motor function. Additionally, direct stimulation of the spinal cord has shown potential for restoring movement. Bladder neuroprostheses stimulate nerves to ameliorate incontinence or voiding dysfunction. Many people with SCI lack normal sensation below the level of the lesion and there has been a recent interest in trying to restore this ability, possibly through direct stimulation of the sensory cortex. Some recent research seems to support this assertion.
Scientists at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York and Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio have been working with SCI victim, Ian Burkhart to develop a working prototype neuroprosthetic device.
Twenty-four-year-old Ian Burkhart suffered a spinal cord injury in a diving accident that left him paralyzed from his shoulders down. Doctors implanted an electrode array in Burkhart’s brain in the part of his motor cortex that controls hand movements. Study coauthor Chad Bouton used machine-learning algorithms to decode Burkhart’s brain activity and use it to stimulate a sleeve of 130 electrodes worn on his forearm.
Burkhart trained with a neuroprosthetic device that acts as a “neural bypass” between his brain and arm muscles up to three times a week for more than a year, and was eventually able to move individual fingers, allowing him to execute precise movements such as swiping a credit card or playing a guitar video game.
The achievement builds on previous work at labs around the world, which have demonstrated brain control of computers, robotic arms, and even full-body exoskeletons.
“We think this is just the beginning, but it may be years before the technology sees widespread clinical use, however”, says study coauthor Nick Annetta.
Next week, we will conclude this series with a discussion of how a brain-computer interface made wireless robotics history, then we are going to put all this new bionic tech together.
In the meantime; if you are in need of prosthetic or orthotic rehabilitation, don’t wait for your family physician; visit Excel Rehabilitation Services on Burnside Ave. in Gonzales, Louisiana. You will receive one-on-one professional care from an experienced physical therapist!
Krucoff, Max O.; Rahimpour, Shervin; Slutzky, Marc W.; Edgerton, V. Reggie; Turner, Dennis A. (2016-01-01). "Enhancing Nervous System Recovery through Neurobiologics, Neural Interface Training, and Neurorehabilitation". Neuroprosthetics: 584.
Meek SG, Jacobsen SC, Goulding PP. Extended physiologic taction: design and evaluation of a proportional force feedback system. J Rehabil Res Dev 1989;26(3):53–62.
Patterson PE, Katz JA. Design and evaluation of a sensory feedback system that provides grasping pressure in a myoelectric hand. J Rehabil Res Dev 1992;29(1):1–8.
Rosenbaum-Chou, Teri PhD; Daly, Wayne CPO; Austin, Ray ATA; Chaubey, Pravin MS; Boone, David A. PhD, CP, MPH. Development and Real World Use of a Vibratory Haptic Feedback System for Upper-Limb Prosthetic Users
The Academy of Spinal Cord Injury Professionals, Inc. 2013