Researchers from North Carolina State University (NC State), Raleigh, and the University of Houston (UH), Texas, have joined forces on a new, four-year, $1.2 million collaborative project to use neurological signals to control lower-limb prostheses and create a prototype device. Their work is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
“Our goal is to improve mobility for people using prosthetics, lay the groundwork for a new generation of prosthetic devices, and improve our understanding of how brain signals and neuromuscular signals are coordinated,” said He (Helen) Huang, PhD, co-principal investigator of the NSF grant and an associate professor of biomedical engineering at NC State and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill).
In recent years, researchers have developed powered prosthetic devices that use internal motors to improve the motion of the artificial limb. The goal of the NSF project is to improve the connection between the prosthesis and the person using it. Huang’s team will be using sensors to pick up the neuromuscular control signals from residual muscles in the area where the prosthesis is connected to its user. Her aim is to develop an algorithm that translates those neuromuscular signals into machine language that will control the powered prosthesis-making it easier for the user to move seamlessly from standing up, to walking across the room, to climbing the stairs.
Huang’s team also plans to build a prototype powered prosthesis that incorporates the new technology. This aspect of the research builds on Huang’s previous experience in designing and fabricating power prostheses.
Huang’s co-principal investigator on the project, José “Pepe” Contreras-Vidal, PhD, of UH, will be exploring ways to use neurological signals from the brain to control prosthetic legs. This is important for patients who have little or no residual muscle in the area of the missing limb because that lack of muscle makes it difficult to pick up neuromuscular signals. In those cases, signals picked up directly from the brain may be able to control the prosthesis.
“Ultimately, we’d like to combine both approaches, using signals from the muscles and the brain to provide better control of lower-body prosthetics,” Huang said.
Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by NC State.