A robot system allows prosthetics to “feel” movement. In the United States, a team of researchers succeeded in stimulating the muscles of those who lost a limb, allowing patients to control prostheses even without looking at them.
Future prosthesis technologies
When we grasp something we do not necessarily need to look at our hand. An ability called this proprioception, which allows us to perceive the position of our body in space, even without the help of sight, and that allows us to correctly calibrate our movements. But in people who have lost their limbs this ability to feel movement disappears. And they can control their prosthesis only by looking at them carefully at all times.
Now a team of researchers from the Cleveland Clinic told the pages of Science Translational Medicine that they managed to recreate an illusion of the sense of movement in the virtual arms of six patients, thus improving the ability of patients to feel and control their own autonomously. prostheses.
“When you make a movement, you know you are the author of that gesture and have a sense of control over your actions,” explains author Paul Marasco. “People who have been amputated lose this feeling of control, feeling frustrated and disconnected from their prosthetics.
The illusions that we generate restore the sensation of movement and restore the sense of control over the prostheses “.
To succeed, the team of researchers has used small and powerful robots, a machine / nervous system interface, able to vibrate and stimulate the muscles to light up the sensation of movement. It should be noted that the patients of the study had already undergone a surgical procedure called targeted muscle re-innervation, a procedure that reconnects the muscles with the nerves of the amputated limb.
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The researchers observed that when they vibrated the patients’ muscles to give them the illusion of movement, they reported better spatial awareness and better motor control without having to visually monitor the prostheses. In some tests, three of them, for example, managed to close their virtual hand as if they were holding a cylinder, without the aid of sight.
The next step will now be to conduct further experiments and to further determine the effectiveness of this new system. And in the future, specify the researchers, try it also on patients who have lost a leg or patients with strokes, who have difficulty in their movements. “The ultimate goal of our research is to use the sensation of movement to optimize the relationship between patients and technology, to make their prostheses better integrated as a natural part of themselves”, concludes Marasco.