For an amputee, replacing a missing limb with a functional prosthetic can alleviate physical or emotional distress and mean a return of vocational ability or cosmetics. Studies show, however, that up to 50 percent of hand amputees still do not use their prosthesis regularly due to less than ideal functionality, appearance, and controllability. But Silvestro Micera, of the -cole Polytechnique F-d-rale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, is paving the way for new, smart prosthetics that connect directly to the nervous system. The benefits are more versatile prosthetics with intuitive motor control and realistic sensory feedback-in essence, they could one day return dexterity and the sensation of touch to an amputee.
At the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, Micera reports the results of previous work conducting a four-week clinical trial that improved sensory feedback in amputees by using intraneural electrodes implanted into the median and ulnar nerves. This interface holds great promise because of its ability to create an intimate and natural connection with the nerves, and because it is less invasive than other methods. It also provides fast, intuitive, bidirectional flow of information between the nervous system and the prosthetic, resulting in a more realistic experience and ultimately improved function.