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New artificial limb tech combines skeletal implants with mind control

You may never have heard of Max Ortiz Catalán, but his is a name worth knowing. The researcher and his team at the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden are transforming the world of prosthetics. Working with a second team at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, the Chalmers team has created the ultimate artificial limb — one that mimics a real arm by connecting to the patient’s mind as well as his or her body

Catalán’s groundbreaking prosthetic device utilizes the technique of osseo-integration to provide patients with a comfortable-fitting prosthetic. He then adds cutting edge neuro-control to give them almost full control over the limb. Pioneered by Rickard Brånemark and his colleagues at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, osseo-integration takes a different approach to artificial limbs than traditional prosthetic design, which uses a suspension system to attach the arm to a patient. These suspension systems limit the movement of the limb, making it difficult for a patient to lift their arms beyond a certain point.  They also can be so uncomfortable that many patients stop wearing their artificial limb, losing any benefits they would gain from the device.

Osseo-integration overcomes these hurdles, providing mechanical stability by attaching directly to the patient’s bones. The technique uses a titanium anchor that is implanted into the bone, and following this, bone cells grow tightly around the titanium, enabling researchers to attach the prosthesis directly to the skeleton. This technique allows for the comfortable attachment of artificial limbs to the body. It also lets users move their arms in their full range of motion.

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With a comfortable limb in place, Max Ortiz Catalán then designed a neuro-control system that takes advantage of the patient’s existing nervous system and musculature. The team uses implanted neuromuscular electrodes that offer improved control over surface implants, which take longer to respond and are affected by external conditions.

Catalán’s implanted electrodes require little muscular effort, and allow patients to move their artificial limbs with both precision and speed.  The internal implants also are impervious to weather conditions, providing patients with the freedom to use their prosthesis outside in the bone-numbing cold of the winter and the searing heat of summer.

The first mind-and-body connected prosthetic device was implanted in a patient in 2013.  The system has remained stable for the past several years, providing both a full range of mechanical movement and offering extra features such as tactile feedback. In the future, the team hopes to integrate additional sensors into the prosthetic to further mimic the complex operations of a limb. They also want to expand their prosthetics beyond the arm and support other areas such as the leg.