The unconscious process by which human beings perceive the position of their body parts-known as proprioception-is a critical element of the body’s motor control system. A study presented April 8 during the 82nd Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), held in San Francisco, California, supports the value of adding proprioceptive feedback for brain-controlled prosthetic devices.
Proprioceptive feedback plays a key role in rehabilitation following a brain injury. Without it, a patient experiences diminished motor performance and requires visual guidance for movement. When a patient is fitted with a robotic prosthetic limb, he or she gains control over the prosthesis with the help of a communication pathway provided by a brain-computer interface (BCI). However, BCI-controlled prostheses currently operate without somatosensory feedback.
A team of researchers led by Elizabeth C. Tyler-Kabara, MD, PhD, FAANS, assistant professor of neurological surgery and bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pennsylvania, Neurological Surgery, found that proprioception significantly improved prosthetic control in the absence of vision. The study, known as “Brain Computer Interface (BCI) Controlled Prosthetic Arm Movement Is Possible in the Absence of Visual Input with Proprioceptive Feedback,” demonstrates that proprioception can have a powerful impact on BCI-controlled prosthetic arm movements and should be an important target for sensory restoration.
“Not only are we proving that high-level brain control of a prosthetic arm is possible, but we are generating new ways to learn about how the brain works,” Tyler-Kabara said.