Scientists in Austria have created an artificial leg which allows the wearer to feel sensations once again.
The technology, based around sensors fitted to the sole of the artificial foot, act to stimulate the nerves at the base of the amputated stump.
The sensations were made possible after the initial rewiring of the nerve endings, which placed them closer to the skins surface. Then sensors were fitted to the base of the foot, where the pressure placed upon heal, toe and foot movement could be transmitted to the nerve endings in the stump.
The vibrations, relayed to a micro-controller inside the “control panel” at the base of the stump, allowed the signals to be relayed to the brain.
This in turn allows the wearer to feel the foot being placed on the ground.
“The sensors tell the brain there is a foot and the wearer has the impression that it rolls off the ground when he walks” said Professor Hubert Egger of the University of Linz, whose team was responsible for the technology.
The first recipient of the device, Wolfgang Ranger, has been testing the technology for six months, both at the lab and at home.
He said “I no longer slip on ice and I can tell whether I walk on gravel, concrete, grass or sand. I can even feel small stones.”
The technology has even had the miraculous effect of reducing painful “phantom limb pain” that had been a debilitating side-effect, following his amputation.
Professor Egger said this reduction in phantom pain was due to the brain now receiving “real data” as opposed to searching for information from the lost limb.
The technology follows on from groundbreaking studies conducted by an International team last year, when scientists developed a bionic hand, allowing amputees to feel sensations from their fingers.
The technology is still in it’s trial stages but hopes are that eventually, all prosthetic limbs will be fitted with sensory devices.
What do you think of this new technology?