Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Johns Hopkins Neuroscientist’s Goal: A Prosthetic Limb with Feeling

09.09.2010
Back in 1980 when The Empire Strikes Back hit the big screen, it seemed like the most fantastic of science fiction scenarios: Luke Skywalker getting a fully functional bionic arm to replace the one he had lost to archenemy Darth Vader.

Thirty years later, such a device is more the stuff of fact and less of fiction, as increasingly sophisticated artificial limbs are being developed that allow users a startlingly lifelike range of motion and fine motor control.

Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Steven Hsiao, however, isn’t satisfied that a prosthetic limb simply allows its user to grasp or move something. He wants to provide the user the ability to feel what the artificial limb is touching, such as the texture and shape of a quarter, or experience the comforting perception of holding hands. Accomplishing these goals requires understanding how the brain processes the multitude of sensations that come in daily through our fingers and hands.

Using a $600,000 grant administered through the federal stimulus package, Hsiao is leading a team that is working to decode those sensations, which could lead to the development of truly “bionic” hands and arms that use sensitive electronics to activate neurons in the touch centers of the cerebral cortex.

“The truth is, it is still a huge mystery how we humans use our hands to move about in the world and interact with our environment,” said Hsiao, of the university’s Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute. “How we reach into our pockets and grab our car keys or some change without looking requires that the brain analyze the inputs from our hands and extract information about the size, shape and texture of objects. How the brain accomplishes this amazing feat is what we want to find out and understand.”

Hsiao hypothesizes that our brains do this by transforming the inputs from receptors in our fingers and hands into “neural code” that the brain then matches against a stored, central “databank” of memories of those objects. When a match occurs, the brain is able to perceive and recognize what the hand is feeling, experiencing and doing.

In recent studies, Hsiao’s team found that neurons in the area of the brain that respond to touch are able to “code for” (understand) the orientation of bars pressed against the skin, the speed and direction of motion, and curved edges of objects. In their stimulus-funded study, Hsiao’s team will investigate the detailed neural codes for more complex shapes, and will delve into how the perception of motion in the visual system is integrated with the perception of tactile motion.

The team will do this by first investigating how complex shapes are processed in the somatosensory cortex (the part of the brain that responds to touch) and second, by studying the responses of individual neurons in an area that has traditionally been associated with visual motion but appears to also have neurons that respond to tactile motion (motion of things moving across your skin).

“The practical goal of all of this is to find ways to restore normal sensory function to patients whose hands have been damaged, or to amputees with prosthetic or robotic arms and hands,” Hsiao said. “It would be fantastic if we could use electric stimulation to activate the same brain pathways and neural codes that are normally used in the brain. I believe that these neural coding studies will provide a basic understanding of how signals should be fed back into the brain to produce the rich percepts that we normally receive from our hands.”

Hsiao’s team’s investigations are among the 451 stimulus-funded research grants and supplements totaling more than $214.3 million that Johns Hopkins has won since Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. That law, informally known by the acronym ARRA, gave the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation $12.4 billion in extra money to underwrite research grants by September 2010. The stimulus package is part of the federal government’s attempt to bring back a stumbling economy by distributing dollars for transportation projects, infrastructure building, the development of new energy sources and job creation, and financing research that will benefit humankind.

Johns Hopkins scientists have submitted about 1,500 proposals for stimulus-funded investigations, ranging from strategies to help recovering addicts stay sober and the role that certain proteins play in the development of muscular dystrophy to mouse studies seeking to understand how men and women differ in their response to the influenza virus.

As of Aug. 31, 167 staff jobs have been created at Johns Hopkins directly from ARRA funding, not counting jobs saved when other grants ran out and not counting faculty and grad student positions supported by the ARRA grants.

Related websites:

http://krieger.jhu.edu/mbi/research/Hsiao
http://Krieger.jhu.edu/mbi/hsiaolab

Lisa De Nike | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.jhu.edu

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht A whole-body approach to understanding chemosensory cells
13.12.2017 | Tokyo Institute of Technology

nachricht Research reveals how diabetes in pregnancy affects baby's heart
13.12.2017 | University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A whole-body approach to understanding chemosensory cells

13.12.2017 | Health and Medicine

Water without windows: Capturing water vapor inside an electron microscope

13.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Cellular Self-Digestion Process Triggers Autoimmune Disease

13.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>