Neuroprosthetics: Brain controls prosthetic hands

As technology advances, scientists have been working hard to utilize brain power to control prosthetic limbs. This type of brain-powered prosthetic is referred to as a neuroprosthetic.

Scientists have found a way to place electrodes on the head of a person in order to track their neural activity. The electrodes then send the information to an exterior electronic device that can read the information and decode it so that it is useful for the prosthetic. The signal is then sent to the prosthetic to cause the desired action to occur. The idea that a person can control his or her prosthetic with his or her own brain is phenomenal, however, the converting device is usually located outside of the body and in the lab, making it unrealistic for people to do this in their regular day to day living.

However, a man named Oskar Aszmann at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria was able to replace the damaged hands of three men with prosthetic hands that they could control with their brains without external machinery!

The three men all had major nerve damage to their hands, leaving only a few nerve fibers. With this extent of damage, there was no way for the doctor to reconstruct the hand to be useful again. However, there were enough nerve fibers to help a prosthetic hand function. All three men had their hands amputated and Aszmann got to work right away by taking a part of their leg muscle and adding it to their arm to strengthen the nerve signals there. After utilizing brain plasticity to train the brain to control the prosthetic, each man was able to power their own bionic hand with their mind!

The hand was able to move on its own because it is electrically powered and gets charged like a cell phone would every night. This way, the prosthetic hand is able to provide the power for the movement, and all the owner has to do is provide it the correct nerve signal to carry out the action.

Additional Resources:

Theresa Koos is a sophomore at Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa where she is studying to be a physical therapist with a major in biology. Interested in writing for us? – then send us a message using our contacts page.

Image Sources:

  • Thumbnail: By Petty Officer 2nd Class Greg Mitchell of the United States Navy (DVIDS Archive) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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