Robotic Arm Enable Paralyzed Person To Feel Touch

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Robotic Arm Enable Paralyzed Person To Feel Touch
Researcher Rob Gaunt prepares Nathan Copeland for brain computer interface sensory test. Credit: UPMC/Pitt Health Sciences Media Relations OR UPMC/Pitt Health Sciences

Sometimes a major accident causes person unable to sense touch through fingers or hands. So scientists from the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC have developed a mind-controlled robotic arm. This robotic arm will directly connect to the brain’s computer interface. This is for the first time, humans will able to feel touch through robotic arms that control with the brain. Scientists actually want to create a system which moves and feels just like a natural arm.

A 28-year-old Nathan experienced the same after came out from the brain surgery. It means this robotic arm allow Copeland to experience the sensation of touch.

Study co-author Andrew B. Schwartz said, “The most important result of this study is that microstimulation of sensory cortex can elicit natural sensation instead of tingling. This stimulation is safe, and the evoked sensations are stable over months. There is still a lot of research that needs to be carried out to better understand the stimulation patterns needed to help patients make better movements.”

Our arms move naturally and interact with the environment is due to thinking and moving the right muscles. We can classify a piece of cake and a soda through touch. It is actually the touch sense that we get from the brain as continuous input. It tells the brain where to move and by how much.

Scientists then looking for a candidate to test the device. So they developed and filtered their system in such way that inputs from the robotic arm are transmitted through a microelectrode array. This microelectrode array is equipped in the brain where the neurons that control hand movement and touch are situated.

In the winter of 2004, Mr. Copeland, from western Pennsylvania, met with a car accident. That accident breaks his neck and injured his spinal cord. The accident leaves him with quadriplegia from the upper chest down. After that, he was unable to feel or move his lower arms and legs. He needs assistance with all his daily activities. He was 18 and in his freshman year of college pursuing a degree in nanofabrication, following a high school spent in advanced science courses.

His health problems made him discontinue his studies. After that, he enrolled himself in Pitt’s registry of patients for clinical trials. Later, he passed some screening tests and wheeled into the operating room. UPMC neurosurgeon Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara then implanted four tiny microelectrode array in Nathan’s brain. Those were only half of the size of a shirt button. But before surgery, scientists used some imaging techniques. Those techniques identify the exact regions in the brain corresponding to feelings in each of his fingers and his palm.

Mr. Copeland said, “I can feel just about every finger. It is a really weird sensation. Sometimes it feels electrical and sometimes its pressure. But for the most part, I can tell most of the fingers with definite precision. It feels like my fingers are getting touch or push.”

Michael Boninger, M.D., professor of physical recounted how the Pitt team has achieved milestone after milestone. From the basic understanding- how the brain processes sensory and motor signals to applying it in patients.

Dr. Boninger explained, “We meant to make use of the brain’s natural, existing abilities to return people that have lost but not forgotten. Slowly but surely, we have been moving this research forward. Four years ago we demonstrated control of movement.”