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7/18/2019 11:32:41 AM
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Researchers help paralyzed man regain sense of touch through a robotic arm

A team of researchers working with Sliman Bensmaia, associate professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago, and led by Robert Gaunt, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh, developed a brain computer interface that was surgically implanted in 28-year-old Nathan Copeland. The interface is connected to a China Industrial Robotic Arm that transmits sensory feedback through electrodes implanted in areas of the brain responsible for hand movement and touch.

Copeland was paralyzed from the chest down in a car accident in 2004, unable to feel or move his lower arms and legs. In a study published today in Science Translational Medicine, the researches demonstrate how he is now able to distinguish between touches on individual fingers and the palm of the robotic arm with input from the BCI.

“I can feel just about every finger—it’s a really weird sensation,” Copeland said in a news release from Pitt and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Sometimes it feels electrical and sometimes its pressure, but for the most part, I can tell most of the fingers with definite precision. It feels like my fingers are getting touched or pushed.”

The system incorporates years of research by Bensmaia describing how the nervous system interprets sensory feedback as we touch or grasp objects, move our limbs and run our fingers along textured surfaces. In a series of experiments with monkeys, whose sensory systems closely resemble those of humans, Bensmaia identified patterns of neural activity that occur naturally as the animals manipulate objects, and successfully recreated those patterns by directly stimulating the nervous system with electrical signals.
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