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Prosthetic Arm Controlled by Neuromuscular Implants

Doctor Rickard Branemark MD, MSC, PHD and his team at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden have perfomed an operation on a transhumeral amputee that is nothing short of groundbreaking. According to the publication O and P Edge, they have implanted electrodes into the patient’s muscle and nerves that will allow him to control an osseointegrated prosthetic arm. By implanting the electrodes, the arm will receive stronger signals and therefore make a larger amount of movements possible. This technology can also cut down on the mental fatigue that occurs when an amputee begins to use and train muscles to signal the prosthesis. Doctor Branemark sees other potential advantages to using these electrodes, “The next step will be to test electrical stimulation of nerves to see if the patient can sense environmental stimuli.”

There are, of course, several issues that a surgery like this can bring up. For example, the surgery was performed, but it still remains to be seen how the patient is able to tolerate the electrodes and the arm, and to what functional level he will be able to return to. There is also the risk of infection with osseointegration. According to a study by Branemark et al. Osseointegrated Titanium Implants for Limb Prostheses Attachments: Infectious Complications, osseointegrated limbs have up to an 18% infection rate. It is for this reason that the FDA here in the United States is reluctant to approve this technology.

Regardless of where the procedure is and can be performed, this is a big breakthrough and has promising implications for the future of prosthetics. Dr. Branemark probably puts it best when he says ““The ultimate goal is to make a more natural way to replace a lost limb, to improve the quality of life for people with amputations.”

Link to original article here http://www.oandp.com/articles/NEWS_2013-02-22_01.asp

Link to infection study here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2939339/

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