For the first time, scientists at Caltech have induced natural sensations in the arm of a paralyzed man by stimulating a certain region of the brain with a tiny array of electrodes. The patient has a high-level spinal cord lesion and, besides not being able to move his limbs, also cannot feel them. The work could one day allow paralyzed people using prosthetic limbs to feel physical feedback from sensors placed on these devices.
The research was done in the laboratory of Richard Andersen, James G. Boswell Professor of Neuroscience, T&C Chen Brain-Machine Interface Center Leadership Chair, and director of the T&C Chen Brain-Machine Interface Center. A paper describing the work appears in the April 10 issue of the journal eLife.
The somatosensory cortex is a strip of brain that governs bodily sensations, both proprioceptive sensations (sensations of movement or the body’s position in space) and cutaneous sensations (those of pressure, vibration, touch, and the like). Previous to the new work, neural implants targeting similar brain areas predominantly produced sensations such as tingling or buzzing in the hand. The Andersen lab’s implant is able to produce much more natural sensation via intracortical stimulation, akin to sensations experienced by the patient prior to his injury.
When it comes to a proposed rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that would impose undue regulatory and financial burdens on physical therapists (PTs) who provide custom orthoses and prostheses, APTA isn’t mincing any words, describing the proposed standards as a set of unnecessary requirements that will limit patient access to appropriate care.
In a March 10 letter to CMS, APTA President Sharon L. Dunn, PT, PhD, lays out the case for CMS to back away from the proposed rule, which would require PTs to be “licensed by the state [as a qualified provider of prosthetics and custom orthotics], or … certified by the American Board for Certification in Orthotics and Prosthetics … or by the Board for Orthotist/Prosthetist Certification.” APTA estimates that the additional administrative and financial burdens could affect thousands of PTs across the country.
A proposed new rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) would include qualified physical therapists (PTs) among the providers who could furnish and bill for custom orthotics and prosthetics; however, the CMS definition of “qualified” may have administrative and financial implications for PTs.
The proposed rule, issued on January 11, aims to tighten up requirements around who CMS will work with when it comes to making and furnishing devices ranging from glass eyes to exoskeletal systems and finger orthotics. In addition to an estimated 900 PTs who could be affected by the proposed rule, the provisions would also have an impact on facilities including skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) and rehabilitation agencies.
President Barack Obama’s BRAIN initiative, housed at the National Institutes of Health, will focus some of its resources on grants to researchers working on ways to create better interfaces for individuals with prosthetics to sense touch and movement.
According to an NIH news release, 3 groups of researchers will receive funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as part of DARPA’s Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces program aimed at developing better neutrally linked prosthetics. Obama’s BRAIN initiative opened the possibility of collaboration between the researchers, previously supported by NIH, and DARPA.
Could a breakthrough in balloon technology open the door to new ways of thinking about prosthetics?
A recent article in Fast Company features a new kind of robotic appendage, named Versaball, able to grip and manipulate delicate objects through the use of a “squishy, expandable balloon that can easily stretch around different shapes and sizes.”
To demonstrate the new approach at the last Consumer Electronics Show, which demands catchy displays, robot designer Empire Robotics arranged for beer pong matches between the Versaball arm and professional beer pong players. In at least 1 contest, the robot won. Video provided with the Fast Company story shows the balloon-like appendage picking up a ping pong ball and then projecting it through the air and into a cup.
A new development in prosthetic hands is not only restoring a sense of touch to individuals with amputations, but seems to be making a significant impact in reducing phantom limb pain.
Researchers from Case Western Reserve University and the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center have found a way to attach sensors to mechanized prosthetic hands that feed touch sensations to nerve bundles in the patient’s arm. The connection allows users to actually feel sensations of pressure and texture—video of the system shows a user picking up and holding a cherry delicately enough between finger and thumb to pluck off its stem without crushing the fruit. Another photo shows a user squeezing toothpaste out of a tube.
After remaining relatively unchanged for the past few years, running blades are undergoing redesign efforts that could help more athletes than ever participate in the Olympics, according to a recent article in the co.Exist.
The article describes a joint effort by Altair, a design company, and Eastman, a chemicals and plastics manufacturing supplier, to rethink the blade-shaped prosthetics used by athletes—most famously by Oscar Pistorious in the Summer 2012 Olympics. According to reporter Ariel Schwartz, the project was taken on by the companies after Paralympian runner Blake Leeper challenged designers to move the concept forward.
Want to witness the power behind the next generation of artificial muscles for prosthetics and exoskeletons? Look in your fishing tackle box.
According to a recent announcement from researchers at the University of Texas – Dallas, a process that twists and coils fishing line results in an artificial muscle that can lift more than 100 times the weight of a similar-sized human muscle and can be controlled by relatively simple temperature changes. The research has been reported in Discover magazine, Health24, and WebMD, among other outlets.
The emotional impact of last month’s bomb blasts in Boston that killed three, wounded 264 and severed limbs from more than a dozen victims still reverberates in suburban bank manager Kent Carson — from his head to where his toes used to be.
“The first thing I thought was that I’d love to talk to those people. I think about them all the time,” says Carson, 55, as he slips on his fake arm and two prosthetic legs. “I wish I could go out there and talk to those people. I wish somebody would have walked into my room and taken off their legs and showed me that a person can walk again.”
Generally not seen outside of a war zone, Carson’s catastrophic loss of three limbs was caused not by an explosion, but by an infection known as Legionnaires’ disease. The bacteria that cause it generally live in water or air-conditioning systems. “I’ll probably never know where I got mine from,” Carson says. But he relates to the shock felt by those Boston victims.
“I was fine. I got sick. And woke up with my arm and legs gone,” Carson says.