Artificial sensor in prosthetic hand detects touch

Organisms can sense a tactile stimulus, in real time, through an artificial sensor in a prosthetic hand, according to recent study results published in IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering.

“If you lose your somatosensory system it almost looks like your motor system is impaired,” SilmanBensmaia, PhD, assistant professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago, stated in a news release. “If you really want to create an arm that can actually be used dexterously without the enormous amount of concentration it takes without sensory feedback, you need to restore the somatosensory feedback.”

Through a series of experiments with rhesus macaques, researchers first gently poked a hand with a physical probe at varying levels of pressure. In a second setting, with electrodes implanted into the area of the brain that responds to touch, researchers delivered electrical pulses to stimulate the sensation of touch.

By creating an equation that described the requisite electrical pulse that corresponded with each physical poke of the hand, the researchers repeated the experiments with a prosthetic hand that was wired to brain implants. The researchers found the animals performed identically whether poked on the real hand or on the prosthetic one.

“This is the first time as far as I know where an organism actually perceives a tactile stimulus through an artificial transducer,” Bensmaia stated. The FDA is in the process of approving similar devices for human trials, and Bensmaia is hopeful such a system can be implemented within the next year.

For more information:

Berg JA. IEEE Trans Neural Syst Rehabil Eng. 2013;21:500-507.

Disclosures: Bensmaia reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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