Bioengineered robotic hand with its own nervous system will sense touch

  • The sense of touch is often taken for granted. For someone without a limb or hand, losing that sense of touch can be devastating.

  • There is a highly sophisticated prostheses with complex moving fingers and joints which are frustratingly difficult and unnatural for the user.

  • To make it actually feel environment this bioengineered robotic hand has been designed with its own nervous system.

  • The research team is creating a living pathway from the robot’s touch sensation to the user’s brain to help amputees control the robotic hand.

  • A neuroprosthesis platform will enable them to explore how neurons and behaviour can work together to regenerate the sensation of touch in an artificial limb.

  • Just like human fingertips, the robotic hand is equipped with numerous sensory receptors that respond to changes in the environment. Controlled by a human, it can sense pressure changes, interpret the information it is receiving and interact with various objects. It adjusts its grip based on an object’s weight or fragility.

  • But the real challenge is figuring out how to send that information back to the brain using living residual neural pathways to replace those that have been damaged or destroyed by trauma.

  • When the peripheral nerve is cut or damaged, it uses the rich electrical activity that tactile receptors create to restore itself.

  • The neurons will not be kept in conventional petri dishes. Instead, they will be placed in biocompatible microfluidic chambers that provide a nurturing environment mimicking the basic function of living cells.

  • The research team will be able to stimulate the neurons with electrical impulses from the robot’s hand to help regrowth after injury. They will morphologically and electrically measure in real-time how much neural tissue has been restored.

  • Using an electroencephalogram (EEG) to detect electrical activity in the brain, will examine how the tactile information from the robotic sensors is passed onto the brain to distinguish scenarios with successful or unsuccessful functional restoration of the sense of touch.

  • Once the nerve impulses from the robot’s tactile sensors have gone through the microfluidic chamber, they are sent back to the human user manipulating the robotic hand.

  • This is done with a special device that converts the signals coming from the microfluidic chambers into a controllable pressure at a cuff placed on the remaining portion of the amputated person’s arm.

  • By providing a better understanding of how to repair nerve injuries and trauma we will be able to help patients recover motor functionality after an amputation. This research also has broad applications for people who suffer from other forms of neurotrauma such as stroke and spinal cord injuries.

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