Solving the prosthetic puzzle
To help the Pentagon improve the ability of prosthetic limbs, UH is working on a year-long project of implanting devices into the brains of lab animals. The project will help military and civilian amputees who need prosthetics.
The project is lead by UH researcher and professor of electrical, computer systems and engineering, Badrinath Roysam. Other national universities, like the University of Michigan, are also participating.
“A neuro-prosthetic device is something that looks like an electron, but this device is more sophisticated than that,” Roysam said. “The device is surgically inserted into the brain tissue, that way neural activity can be recorded.”
While it has been compared to mind control, Roysam said it is not.
“There is no such thing as mind control,” Roysam said. “The project is basically about finding the critical combination of factors that make neural implant devices work.”
For years, prosthetic devices have failed within weeks, Roysam said. He expects that the implanted device will find the source of the problem and the solution.
“These devices stopped functioning after a while because the brain treats the insertion (of the implanted device) as an injury,” Roysam said. “The device is a foreign object to the body and basically the tissue surrounding the device remodeled itself in a matter that served to isolate the device.”
The team will work to solve the issues.
“Our job in this project is to figure out what are the combinations of factors that make the body reject the device,” Roysam said.
Others have tried to figure out the different factors as to why the body keeps rejecting the device.
“Is it the way you insert the device? Is it the drug you can insert through the device?” Roysam said. “Could the rejection be due to the shape of the device? Or is it the surface codings on the device, etc?”
To try to find out what is causing the problems Roysam’s team will implement the device into lab rats and keep track of it by using a technology called Foresight.
“We have developed the Foresight technology in order to take a multidimensional view of the tissue surrounding the device,” Roysam said. “With this technology we will also look at the blood vessels and cells surrounding the device.”
The next step for the team will be to take the research through careful statistical analysis. Following that, the team will try to develop a “quantitative understanding of what is the exact conspiracy of factors that are most likely to cause device failure,” Roysam said.
Roysam anticipates a number of breakthroughs at the end.
“We hope these breakthroughs can be later translated into the design of the new generation of devices and making them (the prosthetics) last a lifetime,” Roysam said.