The world has witnessed life-altering, unimaginable, mind-blowing scientific breakthroughs that have altogether changed the course of human history. These contributions have strengthened our beliefs in science and as far as the current coronavirus pandemic is concerned, science will find a cure for it too. Science has and always will progress with new and advanced offerings almost daily, with one such advancement being Advanced Prosthetics: The magic touch bringing sensory feedback to brain-controlled prosthetics.

Today’s technologies incorporate more advanced ranges of movement and, with the advent of advanced prosthetics and especially with the coming in of neuroprosthetics, researchers have brought about the rise of sophisticated brain-controlled prosthetic limbs. These are combined with electrode arrays – placed in the brain, nerves, or muscles – to decode the messages between the brain and the limb that control movement, allowing users’ brains to power basic movement in, say, a prosthetic arm. Advanced prosthetics reached its height when in 2014, US FDA (The United States Food and Drug Administration) approved the first prosthetics controlled by neural signals from the earth’s brain for use of the general public. The synergy of robotics and medical prosthetics can do wonders!

Developing prosthetics with a brain-computer user interface has always been a challenge for the neuroscientists. Now, the recent developments show that there has been a quantum leap in extensive research in the field of advanced prosthetics. Research towards restoring the functionality of limbs in paralyzed patients and amputees has shown tremendous progress in recent times. It means that the robotic limbs can be controlled by the neurological commands of the brains. This means transforming the lives of those who suffered from amputation.

What does it mean for those who faced an amputation? It means that the prosthetic will be controlled by the user’s brain itself. It means a nerve from the part of the limb that still exists will be connected to the prosthetic. It does not mean they’ll be able to control prosthetic intuitively but can certainly move their thumb, lift certain objects, or play a version of the stone, paper, scissors!

Some people might be wondering as to how the process is conducted. The process starts with the wrapping of the muscular grafts around the nerve’s endings. This provides nerve new tissues to latch on, that had been lost earlier. The patients will have electrodes implanted in their muscular grafts. This will aid in converting the nervous signals so that the prosthetic hand can react.

In 2000, researchers of Duke Medical Center found success when they implanted electrodes in a monkey’s brain and it was able to pick up food. Later in 2004, another method of picking up brain signals came into the scene. It meant biological devices could be controlled by them. This paved the way for the success of “Life Hand”, a major breakthrough in biomedical science, which came in 2009 when this project was started, which was funded by the European Union. It cost around $3 million!

LifeHand is a thought-controlled prosthesis, a scientific device that enables a person to control a robotic hand using only their mind. The project, in coordination with the St. Ann’s School of Advanced Studies, implanted four electrodes into Pierpolo Petruziello’s (the person) left-hand nervous system for a month, enabling the four-finger robotic arm to achieve complex movements. The implantation was done with other research partners at the University of Campus Bio-Medico in Rome. The project follows a three-month experiment in 2002 by Kevin Warwick and Peter Keard, involving 100 electrodes in the nervous system, to control the two-handed robotic arm with little revolt but a tactile response. The most advanced prosthetic, however, is the one designed by John Hopkins. This is emerging as a vibrant field of research with the medical centers of the University of Chicago and Michigan University is also contributing towards it.

Advanced prosthetics has unlocked advances that amputees and paralyzed patients previously wouldn’t have dreamed of and with the emergence of neuroprosthetics, as with any rapidly emerging area of research, there’s still a long way to go before the field meets its full potential. One of the major limiting factors for the dexterity of neuroprosthetics relates to a sense that most humans take for granted: touch. 

Amputation of limbs is a major cause of disabilities in the world. The rapid emergence of neuroprosthetics is a way forward in providing highly personalized medical care considering the patient’s anatomy. Advanced prosthetics might enable users to enable certain activities of daily life. 3-D printing enables to provide humanoid that can have gripping capabilities.

The success of this experiment means we are moving closer towards achieving an ultra-precise, extremely sophisticated, highly personalized prosthetic that can be controlled by the thought process of users which might significantly alter the lives of those suffering from a disability. Neuroscientists are working towards further advancement, which means the prosthetic might be able to provide sensory feedback too! This research is going on at the University of Chicago so that it can revolutionize the technology of prosthetics. This will aim at restoring a sense of touch perfectly that is in sync with the nervous system. The benefit of humanity is the propelling force behind unimaginable, outstanding scientific discoveries, and as Albert Einstein said, ” The process of scientific discovery is, in effect, a continual flight from wonder.”

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