Device could allow prosthetic hands to feel sensations

A team of engineers and researchers at Washington University in St. Louis is working to create upper limb prostheses with sensory feedback that will allow amputees to feel hot and cold and the sense of touch through their prosthetic hands.

Daniel Moran, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science and of neurobiology, of physical therapy and of neurological surgery at the School of Medicine, has received a 3-year, nearly $1.9 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to test a novel device his lab developed that would stimulate the nerves in the upper arm and forearm.

Moran and his team have developed an electrode designed to stimulate sensory nerve cells in the ulnar and median nerves in the arms.  They have developed a macro-sieve peripheral nerve interface designed to stimulate regeneration of the ulnar and median nerves to transmit information back into the central nervous system.

“The more real estate the brain uses, the more processing power and the more important something is,” Moran stated. “The hand area in the somatosensory cortex is a big piece of brain, so there should be a lot of bandwidth. We think we will be able to send a lot of information to it.”

Moran and his team will work with DARPA to determine how many sensors to put on the prosthetic hands.

“If the nervous system cannot handle more than eight or 10 channels, there is no sense in putting more on there,” he says. “We want to find the bandwidth and what the nervous system can interpret with artificial sensation.”


The macro-sieve peripheral nerve interface was designed by Dan Moran’s lab to stimulate regenerations of the ulnar and median nerves to transmit information back into the central nervous system.

Source: University of St. Louis


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