People with paralyzed hands could soon regain function in their fingers, thanks to a new device being developed by German university researchers.
Dr. Alessandro Del Vecchio, a neuroscientist at Friedrich Alexander University (FAU), has received a 1.3 million Euro grant to determine if a so-called “neuro-orthosis” could help people with nerve damage in their hands move their fingers again.
Although it’s been shown that neuro-orthoses can move the hands of able-bodied people, more research is needed to determine if they can do the same for those with paralysis, Del Vecchio says in a press release.
FAU notes that around 50 million people worldwide have hand paralysis caused by spinal cord injury or stroke.
Measuring Nerve Signals
Del Vecchio and his colleagues will use sensitive equipment to measure nerve signals transmitted by the brains of people with paralyzed hands.
“The neuronal connection between the brain and muscles is still intact in most patients,” says FAU research assistant Dominik Braun. “This means that the muscles react to signals but are unable to move the affected part of the body.”
The researchers want to create a flexible and wearable “neuro-bandage” that can detect even the smallest hand movements by measuring nerve activity in the skin. These measurements will be used to print electrodes in extremely thin layers on cloth items like a t-shirt.
A system known as a brain-computer interface will then decode the recorded nerve signals using artificial intelligence (AI) to determine what the person wants to do.
Neuro-Orthosis Could Restore Hand Function
Ultimately, FAU seeks to develop a neuro-orthosis called GraspAgain that will restore enough hand function to let someone carry out more than 90% of their everyday tasks without help.
“Our aim is to move the fingers and the thumb of the hand independently of each other and with high levels of strength,” Braun says.
The researchers plan to use a system of pull cords that are attached to a soft and extremely light finger cot (see photo above). All of the system’s bulky components, such as the power supply, can easily be carried in a walker, wheelchair, or backpack.
The neuro-orthosis, combined with the AI-driven brain-machine interface, will determine a user’s intended movements in four directions. The system will be comfortable to wear and allow someone to be significantly more independent, Del Vecchio says. TwP