Synthetic ‘skin’ could return pain sensations to users of prosthetic limbs

| | July 3, 2018
Engineers at the Johns Hopkins University have created an electronic skin and aim to restore the sense of touch through the fingertips of prosthetic hands. Image credit: Larry Canner/JHU
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Current prosthetic limbs aren’t yet capable of transmitting complex sensations like texture or pain to the user, but a recent breakthrough by scientists at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in which a synthetic layer of skin on an artificial hand transmitted feelings of pain directly to the user, takes us one step closer to that goal.

Working with JHU neuroengineer Nitish Thakor, [Luke] Osborn and his colleagues developed a system called e-dermis—a skin-like layer that gives prosthetic limbs the capacity to perceive touch and pain. Pressure applied to the e-dermis is transmitted to the user’s brain via an electric nerve stimulator implanted in the arm above the prosthesis, allowing the system to emulate actual sensations. In tests of the e-dermis system, a volunteer amputee said he could tell the difference between objects that were rounded or sharp.

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People who use prosthetic limbs can use these pain signals to avoid damaging their prosthesis, just as they use the warning of pain to avoid harming any other body part.

As the authors of the new study admit, an ideal prosthesis would “allow the user to maintain complete control” and choose to “overrule pain reflexes” if desired. For example, users should be able to switch off the pain function and have automated, built-in pain reflexes kick in when the limb senses something is causing damage.

Read full, original post: ‘Electronic Skin’ Allows User of Prosthetic Hand to Feel Pain

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