Can a prosthesis become a full-fledged replacement for lost limbs? Scientists have already learned how to create prostheses with moving fingers and the ability to grab objects, but to feel the feedback from touch is a completely different task. Only a few scientific groups are engaged in such research in the world, and one of them is located in Russia, in the Skolkovo Technopark. The team of "Scientific Russia" visited the company "Motorika", where they conduct invasive research on the sensitivity of bionic prostheses and relief of phantom pains. Read more in our material!

Scientists conduct their research together with colleagues from the Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) and Skoltech. With the help of new bionic prosthetic hands, the subjects can already distinguish the stiffness and size of objects. Sensations are transmitted from the object to the prosthesis and then to the person using electrical stimulation of the nervous system and the domestic neuromodulation platform NEMO Sensitive. The technology is based on stimulation of the peripheral nervous system through implanted electrodes in the limbs and spinal cord of users. At the moment, three stages of clinical trials have already been completed, including the testing of the method on volunteers with different levels of arm and leg injuries. In the future, it is planned to expand the sample of subjects, as well as try to convey new sensations through the prosthesis — for example, hot or cold.

The joint project started at the end of 2021, before the team was ready to start the first test study, the authors of the project say. Surgical operations, rehabilitation of patients and subsequent studies were carried out at the FEFU Medical Center. The company "Motorika" was engaged in the selection of patients and provided technological support for the project. A team of scientists from Skoltech took over the research part of the project.

"Only a few teams in the world are working in this direction, and at the moment there is no finished product on the market yet. Most of these studies focus on reading potentials from the nervous system. We are following a different path ― the path of sensing prostheses with the help of neurostimulation. The difference here is that control occurs by reading neural signals, and sensitivity is due to nerve stimulation. <...> Our company creates two types of prostheses: traction (mechanical) and bionic. Traction motors are completely made of materials of domestic production, and bionic ones are 85-90%, with the exception of electronics and micro―motors," Yuri Alexandrovich Matvienko, head of invasive research at Motorika, told the correspondent of Scientific Russia.

Now the team is preparing for the fourth stage of testing, where they will try to improve the detail of distinguishing objects through a prosthetic arm, test the technology on new types of injuries, and also study the stability of the electrodes under long-term wear of the prosthesis.

"People over the age of 18 with amputation at the level of the hand, forearm and shoulder can become volunteers (apply for participation). It is important to have a chronic pain syndrome as a result of amputation of the upper limb," says Yuri Alexandrovich Matvienko.

3D printing, graphene silicone (for working with touch screens), the Internet of Things, smart functions (contactless payment, mobile communication, remote monitoring system) and control based on artificial intelligence are used to create prostheses. Our own design studio is working on the design of each hand.

Maxim Yuryevich Yemets, Customer service manager and ambassador of Motorika, shared his user experience with the correspondent of Scientific Russia. After the explosion of pyrotechnics in 2004, our interlocutor lost several fingers, and today a bionic hand replaces his real one, even allowing him to play the guitar.

"I've been using the prosthesis for six months now and I don't feel it as some kind of foreign body, but at the same time I can't say that I feel it as my real hand. The prosthesis is programmed for eight gestures and is controlled by the compression and unclenching of the fist (you get used to it pretty quickly), allowing you to regain the lost function of the grip. With the help of it, a person who does not have a hand or fingers can take some objects, carry them, etc. One of our users, for example, with the help of two such prostheses as mine, made a complete repair in the apartment. Another client of ours, using a prosthesis, shoveled snow in winter with a shovel. I myself was pleasantly surprised when, with the help of a prosthesis, I was able to take a large head of cabbage with one hand," Maxim Yemets said.

In the future, Motorika plans to develop its own neurostimulators of electrodes, which will allow not only to create prostheses with feedback, but also to integrate a control system into them. Work has already begun in this area with Skoltech, Lomonosov Moscow State University, FEFU and Samara State University.

"A well―known neuroscientist, Professor Mikhail Albertovich Lebedev, helps us in the study of prosthetic sensitivity, and an equally well―known neuroscientist, Professor of Moscow State University Alexander Yakovlevich Kaplan, helps us in the management of prostheses and the creation of various neuromodulation effects," said Yu.A. Matvienko.

The control of the prosthesis should take place on an intuitive level, but existing techniques do not always give the desired effect, so now scientists are conducting pilot testing of a new rehabilitation platform based on virtual reality. An online training platform is also used for the rehabilitation of users.

The company works with individuals, public and private prosthetic enterprises, cooperates with the Social Insurance Fund, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Russian Federation. Over the past seven years, almost 6 thousand prostheses have been created here for people with congenital features and amputations at the level of the hand and forearm. One of the main challenges of modern prosthetics remains feedback, which is responsible for the transfer of tactile sensations from the object to the prosthesis ― and to the person. Therefore, in the coming years, the main attention of scientists will continue to be focused on solving this problem.

Photo source: Elena Librik / "Scientific Russia" (pictured is Maxim Yurievich Yemets, customer service manager and ambassador of "Motorika")

The information is taken from the portal "Scientific Russia" ( /)

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