University receives $1.4 million to develop realistic neuroprosthetic control

University of Utah researchers have received $1.4 million in funding to develop an implantable neural interface that could allow amputees to control a prosthesis using their thoughts.

Dubbed the Utah Slanted Electrode Array, the interface uses 100 electrodes that connect with remaining nerves and muscles in the arm and read brain signals. The signals deliver sensations of touch and could allow natural movement of a prosthetic hand.

Researchers hope the array will give users more than 20 types of hand and wrist movements and ultimately communicate with the prosthesis wirelessly.

“Imagine wiretapping directly into nerves, which are like a hotline between the brain and the body,” Gregory Clark, PhD, bioengineering associate professor at the university and lead researcher of the project, stated in a press release. “We can pick up the nerve signals, translate them and relay them to an artificial hand. People would not have to do anything differently from what they have already learned how to do with their real hand. They would just think what they normally think and the prosthesis would move.”

Funding for the project is a part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces program. The goal of the program is to create an artificial limb realistic enough to provide psychological benefit to the user.

Funding will be shared with Blackrock Microsystems, a university startup that will manufacture electrodes for the array, and Sliman Bensmaia, PhD, a neurobiology assistant professor at the University of Chicago, who will develop the interface’s sensory algorithms. The wireless technology need for the project will be developed by Ripple LLC.

The funding will cover 18 months of research and pay for testing on two human volunteers. The university is also eligible to receive up to $4.4 million from DARPA during the next 5 years.

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