Spinal stimulators could provide sensory feedback to a prosthetic arm

Service Engineering

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s Rehab Neural Engineering Labs claim that spinal stimulators, used to reduce chronic pain, could provide sensory feedback to a prosthetic arm, and posted their study in eLife.

Within the study, four amputees were given spinal stimulators which generate the illusion of sensations in the missing arm. The strings of implanted spinal electrodes run along the spinal cord, where they sit to one side, upon the same nerve roots that would usually carry sensations from the arm. Lee Fisher, a senior study author, Ph.D., assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, led the team who sent electrical pulses through various points in the implanted electrodes. At the same time, the participants used a tablet to describe what they were feeling and whereabouts in their arm or hand.

“Spinal stimulators could provide sensory feedback to a prosthetic arm.“

Every participant felt a sensation in their hand or arm, and they managed to indicate the size of the area affected through sketching on a blank human form. Also, three participants highlighted that they had feelings limited to a part of the palm of an individual finger. Furthermore, all participants reported feeling natural emotions, including pressure and touch, as well as artificial feelings such as prickling and buzzing.

The researchers found that the sensations and electrodes they generated, remained in place, mostly, during the four-week experiment.

Mr Fisher stated: “What’s unique about this work is that we’re using devices that are already implanted in fifty-thousand people a year for pain, physicians in every major medical centre across the country know how to do these surgical procedures, and we get similar results to highly specialised devices and procedures. I was pretty surprised at how small the area of these sensations were that people were reporting. That’s important because we want to generate sensations only where the prosthetic limb is making contact with objects. Stability of these devices is really critical. If the electrodes are moving around, that’s going to change what a person feels when we stimulate. Our goal here wasn’t to develop the final device that someone would use permanently. Mostly we wanted to demonstrate the possibility that something like this could work.”

See all the latest jobs in Service Engineering
Return to news