NIH funds projects to improve prosthetic limb technology

Three groups of researchers supported by the NIH will receive funding from the President’s BRAIN project, which aims to improve artificial limb technology. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will fund and administer these groups and will build on the discoveries made.

“These projects speak to the power of integrated government-funded science,” Walter Koorshetz, MD, acting director of NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes (NINDS), stated in a press release. “NIH support enables bright inquisitive scientists to develop whole new areas of research. Now, as part of ambitious [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] DARPA projects, these groups will have the opportunity to turn their discoveries to benefit amputees, particularly those brave men and women who lost their limbs defending our country.”

The awards are part of the Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces, a DARPA program designed to enhance prostheses by improving the ability to sense touch and movement.

According to Koorshetz, the BRAIN Initiative provides a platform so the NIH and DARPA and other agencies may collaborate and improve the lives of service members. Supported projects include:

  • The Implantable Myoelectric Recording Array created by Daniel McDonnall, PhD, Ripple LLC, was made to create a more natural feeling of prosthesis control. It will allow amputees to comfortably move multiple joints and prosthetic limbs at same time.
  • Richard A. Norman, PhD, created the Utah Slanted Electrode Array (USEA), a 3-D device that records peripheral nerves and it receives information from fibers while activating a few, resulting in smooth muscle movements. Through data collected, the USEA should be able to create natural movements and will minimize muscle fatigue.
  • Dustin Tyler, PhD, and his team created Nerve Cuff Electrodes, which wraps around major nerves in arms or legs and stimulates them electronically. They wish to test the cuff on prosthetic limbs so users can control the prosthesis naturally and can experience sensation.

“This is a wonderful example of how NIH’s investment in the development of novel  biomedical technologies opens up a range of possibilities for treating different medical conditions,” Roderic Pettigrew, PhD, MD, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, stated. “We are thrilled to see this technology move forward with new and impactful applications.”


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