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Pitt Researchers Land $5M Grant To Make Prosthetic Limbs Feel Real

UPMC/Pitt Health Sciences

Prosthetics researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have landed a $5.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a lower limb prosthesis that mimics the feeling of a leg or foot.

Credit UPMC/Pitt Health Sciences
UPMC/Pitt Health Sciences
Lee Fisher is an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh. He says he wants to create a prosthesis feels like a natural part of the body.

Current prosthetics lack sensory feedback, so people who have lost a leg often struggle to walk. To recreate the sensations of balance and pressure, researchers are experimenting with an implant that transmits electronic signals to a simulator worn on the belt. 

NIH grant recipient Lee Fisher, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, said the goal is that the person wearing the device receives these sensations from several places on the prosthesis.  

"The front of the foot versus the back of the foot, inside versus the outside of the foot," he said. "Then also ideally to be able to feel their limb moving through space so that they can tell, for example, what angle their ankle is positioned at."

The insertion process is similar to an epidural, and is placed between the bone and spinal cord.

The research will also hopefully help patients with phantom limb pain, which can be debilitating and prohibit people from using a prosthesis.