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Artificial Limbs Rewired to Nerve Endings Restore Patient Sensations

Artificial Limbs Rewired to Nerve Endings Restore Patient Sensations
technology

Austrian scientists created a prosthetic leg that restores “feeling” to the patient and cures them of phantom limb pain

Laura Yan
  • 8 july 2015

Austrian scientists have developed the first artificial leg that stimulates “feeling” for the patient. According to AFP, The prosthetic limb has sensors that connects to rewired nerve endings in the patient’s stump, so that the patient can feel the leg being moved as if it were a real one.

Austrian amputee Wolfgang Rangger was the first to test the device. “It feels like I have a foot again. It’s like a second lease of life,” he said. The former teacher lost his leg in 2007, after a blood clot caused by a stroke. Now, he goes running, cycling and climbing, with a barely noticeable limp. In addition, the “feeling” leg has cured him of phantom limb pain, which is caused by the brain seeking signals from the missing leg.

artificial limb on bike

Professor Hubert Egger at the University of Linz developed the prosthesis. Previously, Egger created an artificial arm that could be controlled by the patient’s mind, using motor neurons that used to connect to the missing limb. The artificial leg with feeling uses the nerves in reverse: connecting the prosthesis to the brain.

First, surgeons rewired the nerve endings remaining in the patient’s stump to tissue closer to the surface of the thigh. Six sensors were added to the sole of the artificial foot, which allows it to sense motion and texture. The sensors are linked linked to stimulators inside the shaft, until it reaches the base of the stump, and conveys the sensations to the patient’s brain.

artificial limb sensors

Recovery is quick for patients, and there are no known health risks associated with the procedure.

Egger unveiled the prosthetic limb at a conference in Vienna. The limb currently costs $12,000 to $30,000 to develop. Egger hopes that investors will help him refine the technology and lower the cost. If the device becomes accessible and widespread, it could change everything for amputees: freeing them from the troubles of a phantom limb, and restoring not just motion to life, but feeling.

Images: AFP

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