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Researchers Work on Touch-Sensitive Prosthetic Limbs

Researchers at the University of Chicago are currently working on a prosthetic limb that includes a sense of touch. The limb would give a person a sensory touch, and not just allow him to perform motor activities.

The researchers have published the results of their experiments in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Obviously, this is a major step forward in prosthetics development, and this is a field that has already seen some interesting advancements in the recent past. Earlier, prosthetic hands, legs and limbs, were clunky, mechanical gadgets, which would allow a person to walk or move their arms, but in a cumbersome manner. They were uncomfortable to wear and even more uncomfortable to use. In fact, many prosthetic limbs were actually painful to use for long periods of time.

However, in 2013, the kind of prosthetic limbs that a person who has had his limbs amputated due to accident or any other cause are highly advanced, and very light. They’re made from ultralight materials that are not just strong and stable, but also very convenient and comfortable to wear.

For example, new generation artificial legs don’t just allow a person to walk, and stand, but also allow him to run, climb, and take part in adventure sports. These are activities that would have been considered impossible with a prosthetic leg a couple of decades ago.Prosthetic limbs now are also connected to artificial intelligence that allows them to move upon a brain signal from the person.

The new touch-sensitive prosthetic limbs that the researchers are working on, is definitely the next step forward in prosthetic limbs. Restoring the sensory function of the limb is obviously much more challenging than restoring motor function. According to the researchers, in order to restore sensory motor function, they have to work on not just replacing the motor signal sent to the arm from the brain, but also the sensory signals that are sent by the arm back to the brain. The researchers are currently experimenting using monkeys as subjects.

The experiments were conducted as part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency project Revolutionized Prosthetics, with the support of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Liberty.

Some of the more common causes of amputations are workplace accidents. Workers in forestry, logging and other related industries are at a much higher risk of limb, finger, arm and hand amputations. In fact, these industries account for some of the highest work-based amputations every year.

Apart from the workplace, persons can also lose their arms or legs in explosions, fires, car, truck, and motorcycle accidents. Severe crushing injuries can damage the nerves and muscles of the hand beyond recovery, and in such cases, the limb may have to be surgically amputated. Such patients are likely to benefit from new generation prosthetic limbs.