Future Prosthetics May Include Sense of Touch
Technology has continued to improve the effectiveness of prosthetics over the years, making it easier for those who have lost limbs to lead more normal lives by being able to grasp objects in much the same way they would with their natural hand. The one detail that has always been missing, however, was the sense of touch that let the person know when the prosthetic had contacted the object. New research has resulted in a discovery that could add the sense of touch to future prosthetics.
According to a science article in Discovery Science News, researchers from the University of Chicago may have discovered the key to making prosthetic limbs a little more natural. The findings of their research appear in the science journal, “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”. The study performed with monkeys began with identifying neural activity patterns that took place while the monkeys manipulated objects, and then the patterns were induced artificially. The researchers connected electrodes to those areas of the monkey’s brain corresponding to each finger. This allowed them to determine the type of activity that took place in the brain when something was touched. When the researchers then touched the monkey’s fingers with some pressure, those monkeys that identified the right finger were given a reward. The next step was to reverse the process, forcing the monkey to identify which finger had been touch, even though no touch had taken place.
The final result of the study was that programming signals into an artificial limb can cause the sensation of touch. The limbs would send signals to the brain through electrodes instead of through nerve cells. In addition to creating touch sensation to make it easier to grasp objects, this discovery could potentially lead to better balance.