The technology of prosthetic limbs is moving ahead by leaps and bounds. Not so long ago a prosthetic was carved from wood or was a metal hook. They strapped onto the person’s body and allowed for the simplest of grasping or stabilizing movements. Today’s prosthetics are far more sophisticated devices.
Imagine not being able to grasp a fragile object or a child’s hand because you have no sense of the force you are using. Walking is much more difficult when you have no idea of the surface that you are walking on. Current prosthetics cannot be trusted by users which results in a heavier dependence and additional stress being placed on their functional limbs. This in turn leads to premature wear and tear, impedes mobility, increases the risk of secondary conditions like heart disease, osteoporosis, and ultimately a decrease in the quality of life.
Word came last week of European research that has led to prosthesis that has restored some of the sense of touch for lower leg amputees. This is a great move forward for those requiring a prosthetic. Until now lack of feeling has been a great hinderance. This will allow much easier movement for amputees and a higher quality of life and greater independence.
The new prosthetics developed by Dr. Stanisa Raspopovic based out of ETH Zurich, use modified commercially available limbs that tap into the existing neural networks in the body. The prosthetic device contains sensors that take signals in the prosthetics and convert them to sensory signals that are transmitted through the neural networks that are still working in the body. The small group of patients who have formed the trial had better mobility and agility. They also had a greater speed when climbing stairs and walking. They were less likely to stumble on uneven terrain as well.
Plans for larger clinical trials are underway. You can read the research study here.