Over the years, prosthetic limbs have become more and more common – from simple 3d printed prosthetic limbs to ones that have mechanisms to operate with just thought. However, the one limitation of prosthetic limbs is that it is absolutely impossible to feel the movement of the limb or touch of objects. That, may soon change based on a recent study at the Cleveland Clinic where researchers are working on artificial limbs that feel like a real limb as they move.
The researchers did this study on three patients who have undergone surgery to get their amputated limbs reconfigured – so they could move their attached prosthetic limb with just their thought. (they think about moving their prosthetic arm and it moves) Through a series of experiments, they attached a device to the patients’ amputated arms which created an illusionary sense of kinesthesia – a feeling that makes the person aware of the position and movement of their body parts – as the person performed tasks with their prosthetic arm. What that means is that the patients could “feel” their hand as they opened or closed it which, in turn, means that they could perform tasks without having to constantly look at their hand. Just like able-bodied people don’t always look at their hand while doing something, the same way amputees can perform tasks without having to look at their prosthetic hand because it would be getting vibrations to provide awareness of conscious self-movement.
Over 10% of amputees reject prosthetics because they don’t feel comfortable or essential. Through this study, the researchers want to provide a sense of agency and ownership to the patients, and help their brains recognize the prosthetic arm as being human.
The team plans to continue this study and see how it can help patients with spinal cord injuries and stroke.