Using beams of light to allow amputees not only to control but also to feel the movement of prosthetic limbs is the ambitious goal of a new $5.6 million Department of Defense initiative.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is tapping the new and rapidly growing field of "neurophotonics" to overcome one the biggest technical obstacles to designing prosthetic arms and legs that work naturally: providing a two-way link with the peripheral nervous system.
An interdisciplinary Vanderbilt team including biomedical engineers Duco Jansen and Anita Mahadevan-Jansen, and neurosurgeon Peter Konrad will play a critical role in the two-year effort, which is led by a research team at Southern Methodist University and includes collaborators at Case Western Research University, University of Texas, Dallas and the University of North Texas and several industrial partners, including Lockheed Martin, Texas Instruments and National Instruments.
Such a system must have two major capabilities: It must sense the activity of motor nerves in order to direct the motion of the prosthetic device and it must stimulate sensory nerves to provide the amputee's brain with the feedback it needs to control the device's movements.
Five years ago, the Vanderbilt trio helped kick start the neurophotonics field when it demonstrated that a low-power infrared laser beam can stimulate peripheral nerves in a live rat. Since then they have shown that laser stimulation is repeatable, can be done without damaging or overheating the nerve cells and can be focused tightly enough to stimulate individual neurons, a precision that is not possible with electrical stimulation. The Vanderbilt team is heading up the nerve stimulation portion of the project.
"I'm pretty confident we can deliver on the stimulation side," said Jansen, who is a professor of biomedical engineering. "The sensing side is at an earlier stage of development and there are numerous engineering challe
|Contact: David F. Salisbury|