Wow of the week: New prosthetic rewires nerves to help users feel objects

Sometimes it’s just mind bogging how closely real life medtech advancements resemble science fiction film tech. In the latest demonstration of this, a group of medical researchers in a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA program have developed a prosthetic that uses nerves from amputated limbs and existing muscles and mind control.

It’s referred to as targeted muscle re-innervation or TMR. Signals from nerves and muscles can be used to both control prosthetics and to provide direct sensory feedback. The technology comes out of DARPA’s  Reliable Neural Interface Technology program, which has been around since at least 2011 and is expected to continue at least through 2016, according to the program’s website.

In the video, former Army Staff Sgt. Glen Lehman, who was injured in Iraq, demonstrates the TMR technology by picking up and drinking a cup of coffee and bouncing a ball.


By using sensory feedback, patients using the prosthetic can do simple tasks without having to closely watch what they’re doing. That means they can do things like rummage around a bag for small items, which is beyond the capability of the current generation of prosthetics available. Researchers from Case Western Reserve University used a variation of peripheral interface called flat interface nerve electrode to demonstrate direct sensory feedback, according to the website. Using residual nerves in the patient’s partial limb researchers restored some sense of touch to the patient’s fingers.

Jack Judy, DARPA program manager said: “Although the current generation of brain, or cortical, interfaces have been used to control many degrees of freedom in an advanced prosthesis, researchers are still working on improving their long-term viability and performance.” He added that peripheral interfaces offer greater potential than penetrating cortical electrodes for near-term treatment of amputees because implanting them is a lower risk and less invasive procedure.

Some of the program advances are already being made available to injured veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in clinical settings.


No comments