Sensitive prosthetics will cure phantom pain

Skoltech researchers and their colleagues from Motorica LLC and the Medical Center at the Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) are working on a pioneering project to create a sensitive prosthetic leg. The team has managed to transmit signals from sensors on the patient’s artificial foot via electrodes implanted in his limb and spinal cord to the nervous system. Stimulation by a directed current helped eliminate phantom pain.

The invention deals with two key problems of patients with limb loss: eliminates phantom pain unresponsive to medication and enables limbs to regain sensation. The researchers reasoned that leg sensitization should help patients walk with less effort, save their back from injury and asymmetric load, and feel more comfortable with the prosthetic leg that they would perceive as their own limb rather than a rehabilitation aid or a gadget. Researchers aim to develop a brain-controlled bionic foot.

During the next research phase scheduled for the second half of 2023, the team will engage more patients in the study and try to capture a wider range of sensations caused by stimulation. New engineering solutions in prosthetics will also be considered.

This study was preceded by two phases of hand sensitization research. After the experiments with prosthetic hands, the patients reported similar sensations in the foot and knee and explained what they felt. Due to that scientists performed additional electrophysiological experiments, which included EEG recording of brain potentials during electrode stimulation. This research not only is valuable from a fundamental point of view, but also is essential for the development of neuroprosthetic applications that can relieve phantom pain.

Testing the leg sensitization system is an important phase of the study, since lower and upper limbs differ strongly in nerve supply, control, and sensations. The foot is a complex sensitive organ that controls posture and walking. Besides, nerve supply of lower limbs is more dependent on the brain’s subcortical structures and needs to be thoroughly studied.

Sensitive prosthetics do not exist anywhere in the world. For the first time ever, Russian developers, scientists and surgeons joined efforts to perform surgery using invasive microelectronics to enable interaction between the human body and a bionic device.

The study is carried out with the financial support from Motorica LLC and the RSF Grant No. 21-75-30024.


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