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Taking steps towards cyborg: sensory feedback improves prosthetic leg use

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Prosthetic leg tech has advanced in leaps and bounds, suggest international researchers, who have developed a new device that gives sensory feedback to the user, and in turn improves walking performance and reduced phantom limb pain during use. A major hurdle the researchers overcame was the lack of feedback other prosthetics provided to help the user fine tune minor muscle commands. The team say that by sending signals to the nervous system via a set of implanted electrodes, the brain is able to make small adjustments to the limb which in turn boosts walking performance.

Journal/conference: Nature Medicine

Link to research (DOI): 10.1038/s41591-019-0567-3

Organisation/s: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich, Switzerland

Funder: European Research Council grant no. 759998 (FeelAgain), European Commission grant no. 754497 (SensAgain) and Swiss National Science Foundation grant no. 176006 (SYMBIO-LEG) funded this research.

Media Release

From: Springer Nature

Sensory feedback improves leg prosthetic use *PRESS BRIEFING*

A new prosthetic leg that can restore sensory feedback signals is shown to improve walking performance and reduce phantom limb pain during use in a case study of two patients, published this week in Nature Medicine.

Neural prosthetics that allow direct interaction between the nervous system and external devices—also known as brain–machine interfaces—can improve the quality of life for patients living with brain or spinal cord injuries, degenerative disease, or the loss of limbs. Although considerable progress has been made in this area, a major hurdle preventing the real-world application of brain–machine interfaces is a lack of ‘sensory’ feedback from the prosthetics. Sensory feedback is needed to help fine-tune motor commands and restore interactions with the external world.

Stansia Raspopovic and colleagues describe an improved prosthetic leg device outfitted with a number of external sensors, representing foot touch and pressure and knee joint angle. These sensors transmit sensory signals back to the nervous system through a set of stimulation electrodes implanted into the tibial nerve. The authors found that, for two patients with lower-limb amputations, the use of this prosthetic improved walking performance and boosted endurance in both a laboratory setting and a real-world environment. In addition, using the prosthetic reduced the patients’ phantom limb pain.

The authors conclude that the proof-of-principle results from this case study demonstrate a promising application of sensory feedback prosthetics in real-world setting. However, future research in larger groups followed for longer periods of time will be required.

**Please note that a telephone press briefing will take place UNDER STRICT EMBARGO on Friday 6th September at 1500 London time (BST) / 1000 US Eastern Time**

Authors Stanisa Raspopovic and Francesco Petrini will discuss the research. This will be followed by a Q&A session.

To attend this briefing you will need to pre-register by following the link here. Once you are registered, you will receive an email containing the dial-in details for the conference. You will also be provided with the option to save the details of the briefing to your calendar.


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