New artificial hand can feel

June 21, 2010

While prosthetics are an option for amputees, experts caution that they aren't bionic. Prosthetics are an artificial replacement for a missing part of a limb or a limb. Depending on a person's activity level, a prosthesis can last anywhere from several months to several years. Shortly after the loss of a limb, many changes occur in the area of amputation that may require socket changes or even a different device. Once a patient is completely adjusted to a prosthesis, it will most likely only need minor repairs or maintenance and will, on average, last three years.

PROSTHETICS THAT FEEL? Research that is ongoing at University of Michigan Health System could eventually restore sense of touch for patients with prosthetic hands and limbs. In a project funded by the Department of Defense to develop better prosthetics for veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, researchers are using a technique called "artificial neuromuscular junction." The technique involves combining muscle cells and a nano-sized polymer and placing the elements on a biological scaffold.

Researchers found when the bioengineered scaffold was placed over severed nerve endings in rats, the muscle cells on the scaffold and in the body bonded, and the body's nerve sprouts fed electrical impulses into the tissue. The animal studies suggest that the communication between the scaffold and the native tissue may improve fine motor control of the prosthesis and even send senses of touch and temperature back to the brain.

The University of Michigan team has submitted a proposal to the Defense Advance Research Project Agency to begin testing the bioengineered scaffold in humans in three years.


Shantell Kirkendoll
University of Michigan
(734) 764-2220

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