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Re-wiring the Body

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posted on Nov, 17 2005 @ 10:11 PM
Anyone that has seen Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back will remember Luke Skywalker lost his arm to Darth Vader's light saber, but before the closing titles he was back in action with a fully functional new 'robotic' arm. It's the stuff of science fiction: a bionic arm with all the movement and dexterity of the real thing.

Well Maybe not.

At the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, physicians earlier this year laid the foundation for just such technology.

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.

I think this technology is just great and long over due. We have been making such great improvements in Robotics in recent years and yet most artificial arms are still arcane looking hooks at best. We have the technology to make some pretty good robotic hands just look at some of the advanced robots comming out of Japan like Asimo for proof. One of the biggest hurdles for letting a person missing a arm use this tech is that it was limited to contraction of muscles that remain like the Bicep and Tricep to control them. Thats why this tech is so amazing IMHO that hurdle is know gone.

Is it a perfect bionic arm like the one Luke Skywalker had? No but its a very good step in the right direction, This could very well be the foundation for just a bionic limb in the future.


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