BALTIMORE (Ivanhoe Newswire/WTVM) -- Researchers are testing ways to restore natural hand movements to people with a devastating brain injury or amputation. They're finding ways to restore the broken link from the brain to an artificial limb. They say for the very first time ever, they have found a way to have prosthetic fingers move independently, a monumental step for injured patients.
Man-made replacement parts have come a long way these days. Many are an intricate blend of engineering and medicine.
"We want to make sure this hand can accomplish anything a human hand can," says Brock Wester, a biomedical engineer at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Baltimore, Maryland.
From the wrist, right down to the spongy tips of the prosthetic fingers, where sensors are fed into a controller giving real-time feedback to the wearer.
"In layman's terms, it can pick up an egg without cracking it because it knows how hard to hold it," Wester says.
The key now is to take this high-tech hand and bring it to the next level.
Nathan Crone, M.D., a neurologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine explains, "What we are working on is a project to really explore how much control we can get over a prosthetic limb using brain signals."
Doctors recruited a young man, who was already scheduled to undergo a procedure called brain mapping for epilepsy. The participant was not missing a hand, but was fitted with a device designed to bypass his own arm. Researchers also used a patch of 128 brain electrodes.
"The patch of electrodes was implanted for a week and during that time we were monitoring him for seizures, trying to record his seizures and also mapping the areas of brain that controlled the arm," says Dr. Crone.
Researchers recorded the brain activity used to move each finger then programmed the arm based on the patient's brain activity. Next, they connected the arm to the patient's brain through the electrodes. When researchers asked the patient to think about moving his own individual fingers, the prosthetic fingers moved.
"The implication, obviously, for patients with disabilities are that we could restore function for them," describes Dr. Crone. With more movement than ever before.
Dr. Crone says this technology is still years from being refined and available to those who have lost limbs. More than 100,000 people living in the United States have prosthetic hands and arms. Researchers say that eventually most could benefit from the technology.