Identifying what your fingers are touching is a complex process that involves at least two parts of your brain: the motor cortex and the somatosensory cortex. For instance, how does your sense of touch differentiate between picking up a fragile, delicate piece of cake and a sturdy box of cake mix?
These are “small” things that those of us who are fully able-bodied take for granted, but it’s not the same for 30-year old patient Nathan Copeland.
According to a new report on a scientific research project involving prosthetic arms, achieving this has been one of the greatest impediments to the realization of a realistically-functional prosthetic arm. The report was published in the latest edition of the medical journal Science Translational Medicine released on October 13th, 2016.
But if the progress that researchers have attained so far with their work on Copeland’s prosthetic arm is anything to go by, then scientists have begun overcoming this challenge. This research study was conducted by scientists from the University of Pittsburgh’s Medical Center.
Copeland was implanted with four brain chips that have enabled him to control his robotic hand almost naturally. He can also feel sensations from each of the arm’s fingers. As at now, he says that he can feel pressure when it’s applied to the fingers and to some extent is able to distinguish its intensity. However, for now, he’s not able to identify whether something placed on them is hot or cold.
Copeland lost the use of his arms back in 2004 at the tender age of 18 when he was involved in a car crash. The accident, which snapped his neck and caused a severe injury to his spinal cord, left him paralyzed from the upper part of his chest downwards.
Two years ago in 2014, Copeland was implanted with four chips into his brain, two in the motor cortex and two in the somatosensory cortex. The former region controls arm movement while the latter is involved in the processing of touch information.
The study was led by Robert Gaunt, an assistant professor and senior researcher at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine.
Image Credit: NBC News