NIH grant funds study for improved prosthetic use

Using funding from a $425,000 NIH grant, researchers at the University of Nebraska at Omaha will study sensory connections between lower limb amputation sites and prostheses with the goal of improving mobility for amputees.

According to a press release from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), the 2-year study at UNO’s Biomechanics Research Building will be based on research conducted by doctoral student Jenny Kent and work performed by alumnus Shane Wurdeman, PhD, a researcher for Hanger Inc. Kent previously worked as a researcher for the U.K. Ministry of Defense at Headley Court, which provides rehabilitation for military veterans who have sustained major injuries including amputations.

“When you lose part of a lower extremity, you do not just lose the mechanical aspect; there is a huge sensory component that you no longer have,” Kent said in the press release. “The aim of the intervention we are testing is to enable people to sense the position and movement of their prosthesis better.”

Kent and colleagues will study the use of minor vibrations at varying frequencies applied through the prosthetic socket to condition the limb’s responses to its environment.
“Humans are not like robots,” Nicholas Stergiou, PhD, director of the Biomechanics Research Building, said in the release. “There are countless variations in the ways we move every day. This study is to see whether variable signals sent to the amputated limb can provoke more natural movement while wearing a prosthesis.”

This could help prosthesis wearers who partake in activities like hiking or jogging, which require navigation of uneven terrain.
“A lot of work and money has gone into developing high-end prosthetic technology that can mimic a foot or a knee, but the ability to sense and appropriately move and place the limb is important for actually being able to exploit these features,” Kent said in the release. “If the intervention is successful, it will increase adaptability, potentially reducing falls and allowing people to tackle environments and pursue activities that they might normally avoid.”

If successful, Stergiou said the research could be applied to future studies of both lower limb and upper limb prostheses.



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