Published Research May Lead to Restored Feeling for Amputees - Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

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RIC in the News

Published on November 27, 2007

Published Research May Lead to Feeling Restoration for Amputees

Jesse Sullivan demonstrates
the bionic arm

The most recent edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences features groundbreaking research conducted at RIC into rerouting sensation from missing limbs to nerve receptors in the chest. The paper, written by a team including Dr. Todd Kuiken, Paul D. Marasco, Blair A. Lock, R. Norman Harden and Julius P.A. Dewald, discusses the findings, which may well mark a breakthrough in restoring sensation for those who lose part or all of their arms.

The following abstract summarizes the team’s findings:

“The lack of feedback provided by touch sensation limits the use that amputees can make of prosthetic arms. This could be partially alleviated if sensors in artificial fingertips could connect to nerve endings on an amputee’s body. Todd Kuiken et al. have taken a step toward this solution. In a 54-year-old man and a 24-year-old woman who had lost arms, the authors rerouted the major nerves that carry sensation from the hand to the chest skin. This surgery, results indicate, recreated the sensory topography of the hand on the patients’ chests.

“Although in some areas signals from the phantom hand overlapped with those from the chest, no confusion arose—the patients reported feeling being touched in two places simultaneously. The authors characterized the results of the surgery by measuring thresholds for touch, heat/cold, and electrical-induced pain, and noting which areas of chest skin corresponded to which region of the phantom hand. The phantom hand topography was integrated over the new area in a complex manner. In all modalities, the sensory thresholds of the phantom hand did not differ much from normal skin. With appropriate hardware connections, the authors say, this type of surgery could allow patients more sophisticated use of prostheses.”