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Biotech Medicine

Improving the Abilities of Bionic Arm Patients 46

Al writes "Tech Review has an article about the progress being made on prosthetic arms that can be controlled using nerves that once connected to the missing limb via muscles in the chest. Todd Kuiken, director of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago's Center for Bionic Medicine has pioneered the technique, which has so far given more than 30 patients the ability to control a mechanical prosthetic simply by thinking about moving their old arm. Those who have had the procedure report using their arm to slice hot peppers, open a bag of flour, put on a belt, operate a tape measure, or remove a new tennis ball from a container. The next step is to add sensing capabilities to the arms so that this information can be fed back to the reconnected nerves."
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Improving the Abilities of Bionic Arm Patients

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  • by DurendalMac ( 736637 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @12:20AM (#27709853)
    Can you safely whack off with the bionic arm? It's like giving yourself a stranger!
  • ....so it might be hard to get first post!
  • It's shit like this that makes me want to be alive 100 and 150 years from now. Not because I want to live forever but because think about all the cool shit those guys are gonna have.

    • by Fwipp ( 1473271 )
      It's stuff like this that means we just might be alive 100 or 150 years from now. Just have to get some more vital organ replacements, and we'll be golden...
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Appreciate what you have today. Take a look at current technology that helps quality of life.

    • I thought that 100 to 150 years from now, the last human survivors will be scraping by in the ruins of our civilization.

      Assuming that there's anybody left at all.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Garrett Fox ( 970174 )
        Do you want to prevent that? If so, work to protect human freedom. More tech-toys that way, too.
    • Then you'd get a first cut at this stuff. Are we geeky enough?

  • i bet (Score:3, Funny)

    by Durin00 ( 530952 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @12:33AM (#27709897)
    one of these things cost an arm & a leg!
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @01:00AM (#27710025) Journal
    TFA mentions that they have to relocate the remaining nerves(the chest seems to be a popular destination); but doesn't say why. Do the nerves atrophy if they are left in the stump? Is there some sort of feedback mechanism by which a nerve can detect whether or not it is still connected to a muscle?
    • by Garrett Fox ( 970174 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @01:50AM (#27710237) Homepage
      I think what they're doing is sensing electrical signals generated by the muscles rather than directly by the nerves, and the nerve-moving is just done to route the usual mental input through that patch of (pectoral) muscle. That way you don't have to teach yourself to flex your pecs to move the robot arm; you try to control the missing arm and the signals are routed to the chest muscle, where they're read by the machine.
    • by maxume ( 22995 )

      I think it is largely logistical; moving the nerves to the chest makes it easier to reliably and comfortably interface with them (from what I have seen, strapping something to the stump is hard enough on the skin without having whatever else adding pressure points and whatnot).

  • by Mr. Conrad ( 1461097 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @01:04AM (#27710041)
    I'm a one-armed commando in need of a bionic arm. However, I was hoping to acquire one with a grappling hook attachment instead of the ubiquitous mechanized hand replacements. I have reason to believe that Imperialist Nazis are trying to resurrect Adolf Hitler and believe a grappling hook would help me stop them, especially when my underdeveloped leg muscles and inability to jump vertically, diagonally, or horizontally are taken into account. Does anyone know where I might find such a gadget? Any information is greatly appreciated.

  • Something is missing still. Do we know the language of nerve impulses?

    • by elthicko ( 1399175 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @01:19AM (#27710109)
      We may not fully understand the complex calculations going on in the brain, but we do know that for motor control basically an electrical signal propagates down an axon which connects to a muscle. Once the electrical signal reaches the end there is a chemical reaction which triggers the muscle contraction. There are usually multiple axons connecting to a muscle (the amount active controlling the amount of contraction). So if you take the ends of these axons connecting to residual muscle from the amputated limb and measure the electrical signal you can determine whether the brain is trying to activate that muscle or not. Then you have an algorithm controlling your prosthesis to turn on a motor instead of a muscle.
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Something is missing still. Do we know the language of nerve impulses?

      We actually do know quite a lot about the language of nerve impulses, like how repeated stimulating of a post-synaptic neuron in the central nervous system either increases or decreases its response depending on the frequency and amplitude of the stimulation.

      The muscle, however, is much simpler than the brain. Muscle contraction is basically frequency modulated: a nerve impulse to the muscle causes a single depolarization of the muscle cell membrane, resulting in a short twitch. Repeated high-frequency impu

    • Do we know the language of nerve impulses?

      Yes, it's called sodium and potassium permeability.

    • by kinnell ( 607819 )

      Do we know the language of nerve impulses?

      Do we need to? It's likely easier for a brain to learn to communicate with a motor than it is for a motor to learn to communicate with a brain.

  • by Garrett Fox ( 970174 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @01:47AM (#27710223) Homepage
    This is good progress, but still a kludge because it uses muscles rather than a direct nerve attachment.

    It's also worth following the attempts that've been made on the extreme low-end of the budget scale, to upgrade traditional prosthetics. (What is that one type called? Troutman Hook?) I'm more interested in the bionic ones because they're versatile and cool, but it's also important to consider who can afford the tech and to make it as widely available as practical.
    • This is good progress, but still a kludge because it uses muscles rather than a direct nerve attachment.

      I don't know what you mean by that, because TFA says that the motors are controlled by nerves. For example, the nerves that used to innervate her biceps were just rewired to other muscles after the amputation, so that now they can take those nerves and connect them to the motors that clench the forearm. The motors therefore act as muscles, though obviously in a different physiological manner.

    • This is good progress, but still a kludge because it uses muscles rather than a direct nerve attachment.

      Don't quote me on this, but I'm assuming its because unconnected axons don't fire or degenerate too quickly to be used. I'm more certain that unopposed synapses are unstable and not functional, you don't want neurons just dumping neurotransmitter into nothing. I know that in development, some neurons require functional synapses for survival, and unconnected projections from neurons disappear. So I'd guess that if you have a motorneuron running into an arm that wasn't there anymore, the axon might go thro

  • We've got about 20 years (tops) before these things become better than human hands (more powerful, less fatigue, etc).

    Singularity, baby!!
  • Audio effects -- zha na na na ...
  • Good video at 60 minutes about the bionic arms [cbsnews.com] being developed by DARPA for this project.
    • by maxume ( 22995 )

      One really nice thing about that video is that it shows how cool actual amputees think this technology is, as opposed to how lame (a surprising amount of) people with 2 functional hands seem to think it is.

  • can i just say that the dept. tag on this is possibly the worst pun i've ever seen on slashdot?

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.