Print 9 comment(s) - last by Gul Westfale.. on Oct 15 at 10:39 PM

Project hopes to create robotic hand that moves naturally and lets users feel temperature and pressure

A group of scientists and bioengineers at the University of Michigan are working on a project that they hope will one day usher in a new era of prosthetic limbs. The goal is to help soldiers who lose an arm in battle and others who have lost limbs.

According to the researchers, most prosthetics in use today were developed over a decade ago and have no motor control. The researchers will present the findings they have made in improving the function of prosthetic hands and possibly restore the sense of touch for injured patients at the 95th annual Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons.

The project is being funded by the Department of Defense and came from the need for improved prosthetic devices to improve the life of soldiers wounded in battle. Robotic prosthetics are already available for some uses and the goal of the researchers was to overcome the shortcomings in today's robotic devices. Namely, these shortcomings are the limited motor control and no sensory feedback.

"Most of these individuals are typically using a prosthesis design that was developed decades ago," says Paul S. Cederna, M.D., a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at U-M Health System and associate professor of surgery at the U-M Medical School. "This effort is to make a prosthesis that moves like a normal hand. There is a huge need for a better nerve interface to control the upper extremity prostheses."

The team of researchers created what they call an artificial neuromuscular junction that is made of muscle cells and a nano-sized polymer placed on a biological scaffold. The body has natural neuromuscular junctions, which are the point where nerves innervate muscle to form connections from the brain to the muscle.

The bioengineered scaffold was placed over the severed nerve endings like a sleeve. The researchers found that the muscle cells on the scaffold were able to bond to the body's native nerve sprouts and feed electrical impulses to the brain. The researchers are testing on lab rats right now. In animals, the researchers were able to get the scaffold to relay both motor and sensory electrical impulses and create a target for the nerve endings to grow. It is common for the body to grow an abnormal mass of nerve fibers at a point where they are cut.

"The polymer has the ability to pick up signals coming out of the nerve, and the nerve does not grow an abnormal mass of nerve fibers," explains Cederna.

In lab tests, rats were able to respond to the tickling of their feet with the appropriate signals to move the limb according to the researchers. If successful, the researchers will one-day move onto human trials and may be able to give those missing limbs back sensory input and mobility lost to accident and war.

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Ghost in the Shell coming true
By wingless on 10/15/2009 10:11:14 AM , Rating: 4
These concepts pioneered by Shirow Masamune in the mid-80s manga Ghost in the Shell are coming true. Masamune-san predicted that in the late 20th century, the United States would be engaged in a long war. The disabled soldiers returned with missing limbs sparking a new, high-tech prothetics industry. One of the main advancements came from connecting nerves to artificial nerves, creating cybernetic prosthetics. Cybernetics and the World Wide Web are the basis for the world of Ghost in the Shell in the comics, and later the popular anime movies and tv series.

Shirow Masamune is a Futurist, and he is probably pleased to hear his predictions, based on real world trends, are coming true. Really, this technology is the next logical step in a series of steps to get us where we want to be. I'm just glad we finally got there after talking about it for so many year.

RE: Ghost in the Shell coming true
By jaericho on 10/15/2009 10:54:21 AM , Rating: 5
I wouldn't be glad. GITS didn't seem to be a great universe to live in when I read it.

RE: Ghost in the Shell coming true
By Smartless on 10/15/2009 3:17:22 PM , Rating: 2
I guess it would be determined what OS you're brain is running. I mean hey, getting hacked and having bank information stolen bad, but personality, memories, damn that sucks lol.

RE: Ghost in the Shell coming true
By Alexvrb on 10/15/2009 8:04:34 PM , Rating: 2
Neither is the Shadowrun universe, but it'd totally be worth it if you could get Wired Reflexes!

By axias41 on 10/15/2009 11:03:51 AM , Rating: 4
We have the technology, but I don't want to spend a lot of money...

By TSS on 10/15/2009 9:45:40 AM , Rating: 3
crated a target for never endings to grow to.

Ah finally we might see an end to the never ending story then.

... sorry i couldn't resist ^^ i usually read straight over any spelling mistakes but this one made me chuckle :D

Uh Oh!
By AssBall on 10/15/2009 10:06:31 AM , Rating: 3
these shortcomings are the limited motor control and no sensory feedback

Quick! Sell your Viagra stocks!!!

need a hand?
By HostileEffect on 10/15/2009 12:07:31 PM , Rating: 2
I see a future where there are all natural people, and the rest embrace the next physical form. :D

we are the borg
By Gul Westfale on 10/15/2009 10:39:32 PM , Rating: 1
We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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