A team of Swiss researchers has unveiled a prosthesis which could enable amputees to feel what it is like to walk again. Two patients tested the limb and managed to tell the difference between walking on the road and on sand.hal
An innovative prosthesis that was unveiled on 9 September enabled two patients who had had a leg amputated to feel that they were walking again. This breakthrough could usher in significant improvements in the mobility of those who wear prosthetics and reduce "missing limb" pain.
The Swiss researchers integrated sensors into the sole of the foot and the fold of the knee, linked to electrodes implanted directly into the nerves of the leg. The system enabled two patients who had had their legs amputated above the knee to regain feeling in the missing limb, and for example to distinguish between walking on a road or on sand.
Reduce 'pain from the missing limb'
"Using this prosthesis improved their quality of walking and increased their stamina, both under laboratory conditions and in a real environment," said the article, published in the journal Nature Medicine.
It also reduced their 'pain from the missing limb' – sensations which seem to be coming from a part of the body that has been amputated but which are the result of neurons from the zone around the amputation which continue to send pain messages to the brain.
Prosthetics which interact directly with the nervous system are a sector that is undergoing rapid development. They improve the quality of life of patients who are paralysed or had amputations by allowing them to 'control' the movements of their artificial limb. The main obstacle to their being more widely accepted is the lack of 'feeling' from the prosthesis, which is essential for fine motor skills and interactions with the outside world.
A team of Austrian specialists achieved comparable results in 2015 for a patient whose leg had been amputated below the knee, and tests have already been carried out on upper limbs. However, this is the first time that a prosthesis of this kind has been implemented onto a lower limb amputated above the knee, explained Stanisa Raspopovic, professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, who also underlined the fact that the nerves in the lower limbs are "much bigger" and more complex than those in the arms.
After this initial test on two people, Professor Raspopovic’s team launched a four-year clinical trial to implant the prosthesis onto "a significant number of patients" and to monitor them over a longer period.
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