Bionic arm that relies on mind power to work

Sunday, February 13, 2011

LONDON - In a chapter straight out of sci-fi, scientists have fashioned a bionic arm by connecting nerves from an amputee’s stump to his chest muscles to make it work seemingly on mind power.

When the amputee wishes to move his chest muscles, the signals are picked up by the nerves previously connected to the amputated arm and interpreted by a computer that relays the information to the prosthesis.

Jesse Sullivan was the first to undergo the surgery eight years ago. The new limb was based on research that found nerves in a stump, following an amputation, remain healthy for a short time.

Scientists at Northwestern University in the US are now looking at how different patterns of brain activity can be used to control prosthetic limbs, the Daily Mail reports.

Nate Bunderson, who led the research, said: “If you transfer the nerves (from the stump) to healthy muscles, then you can amplify the brain signals used to control the arm. We can use those signals to control the device.”

The team has fine-tuned the system that interprets the brain signals, giving the patients control over a wider range of movements.

Whereas most amputees lose control of the nerves over time because they are no longer being used to control muscles, Sullivan’s signals appear to become stronger. Bunderson said this effect could be due to the brain getting used to the re-wired pathways.

These findings were presented at the Society of Neuroscience conference in San Diego, US.

Filed under: Medicine, World

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