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Developed within the Neural Engineering Center for Artificial Limbs (NECAL) at RIC, Dr. Todd Kuiken, MD, PhD, pioneered the muscle reinnervation procedure which takes an amputee’s own nerves and connects them to a healthy muscle. In this case, four of Mr. Sullivan’s nerves were dissected from the shoulder and transferred to the muscles of his chest. Doing so allows the user to move his or her prosthetic arm as if it were a real limb – by simply thinking about what they want the arm to do. The "Bionic Arm," or myoelectric arm, is driven using electrical signals from the muscles of the chest, now activated by the user’s own thought-generated nerve impulses. These impulses are sensed, via surface electrodes, from the pectoral muscle and carried through to the mechanical arm, causing the arm to move.
NECAL uses nerve-muscle grafts in amputees to gain added control signals for an artificial arm. Doctors take nerves that used to go to the arm and move those nerves onto chest muscles. The nerves grow into the chest muscles, so when the patient thinks “close hand,” a portion of his chest muscle contracts and electrodes that detect this muscle activity tell the computerized arm when to close the hand. Thus, the patient thinks “close hand” and his artificial hand closes.