For a project recently accepted for funding by the NIH, CorTec will supply novel electrodes to help people regain sensation from missing limbs.
Losing a limb not only severely impairs our motor abilities, but also significantly impairs our level of independence. While prostheses can help to regain mobility, one of their biggest shortcomings is that they do not provide sensory feedback. Without that feedback, movements remain clumsy, effortful, and unnatural – and the prostheses remains a “foreign body” to its wearer.
To overcome this problem, Drs. Lee Fisher and Scott Lempka, and their teams from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Michigan, USA, want to restore feedback by electrically stimulating the parts of the spinal cord that serve as relay stations for the incoming sensory signals from the missing limb. Although the nerve fibers in the limb itself are of course missing, those relay stations remain intact and, when stimulated, can transport electrical signals to the brain, where they are interpreted as signals from the missing limb.
A lot still needs to be learned, though, on what the best targets for stimulation are and how exactly they should be stimulated. Should the electrodes be placed onto, around or next to the spinal cord? Which spatio-temporal stimulation patterns should be used to optimally transmit specific sensory information, without causing any damage to the spinal cord tissue? To answer these questions, the project will combine experiments in animal and computational models.
Dr. Lee Fisher explains their novel approach like this: “A major benefit of our approach is that we deliver stimulation with techniques that are currently used to treat pain in 50,000 people every year. The problem is that the current generation of electrodes aren’t well-suited for the type of stimulation we need to deliver. This project will allow us to build the next generation of devices to achieve more selectivity and produce more focal sensations that are currently possible.”
This is where CorTec comes in with its unique, soft, miniaturized, and customizable electrode technology. CorTec has been designing experimental electrode solutions for recording and stimulating the spinal cord for many years already. In this project, CorTec will develop new shapes, designs and concepts for such electrodes that are based on the research outcomes of Dr. Fisher’s lab and will be used to systematically test their function in animal models.
With the help of the new knowledge generated by this project, it will be possible to design better technologies for human use that could ultimately give people back their sensation of the missing limbs, enabling a new generating of prosthesis that will be able to seamlessly interact with the human wearer.
“Dr. Fisher and his team at Pittsburgh have already researched basic mechanisms of functional electrical stimulation. CorTec is honored to provide our AirRay electrode technology for in-vivo studies. In the future, the AirRay designs developed in this project could be taken to humans.” Says Joern Rickert, Founder and CSO of CorTec.
Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute Of Neurological Disorders And Stroke of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number 1R01NS121028. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
Photo Credit: Joshua Franzos