Artificial limbs have restored powers like standing and walking for those who have lost legs, but not sensation: patients couldn’t feel the ground beneath them. Until now.
For the first time, researchers successfully fitted a human with a “sensory enhanced” prosthetic leg that can simulate sensation. That sense of touch not only makes the wearer safer (you’re less likely to fall if you can feel what’s around you), but it also helps stop phantom pain, when limbs that are no longer there still seem to produce sensations, like itchiness.
To accomplish this, a team led by Dr. Hubert Egger at the University of Applied Sciences in Upper Austria relocated a patient’s nerve endings closer to where the prothesis connects, so that the nerve endings connect to stimulators located in the prosthetic leg. These stimulators are in turn connected to six sensors on the sole of the “foot”. When the sensors push against the ground, the stimulation travels to the nerve endings that send messages to the patient’s brain, which gives the artificial leg the sense of feeling.
Images via University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria