Years after his hand was amputated in a traumatic accident, a hand amputee can “feel” again, thanks to technology FIU engineers have developed.
That person - the first person with a hand amputation who has been fitted with a neural-enabled prosthetic hand (NEPH) system that has a fully implanted, wirelessly controlled neurostimulator – has been using it at home for almost four months. The results are promising to researchers who hope to restore “feeling” to people with upper limb amputation.
“Recouping the ability to feel objects again is like having my hand back, which is something I never thought possible. It’s an absolute gamechanger for me,” said Jason Little, the hand amputee.
The NEPH system, developed at Florida International University by Ranu Jung and her Adaptive Neural Systems Laboratory team, restores a sense of touch/grasp force and hand opening by stimulating sensory nerve fibers in the residual limb with fine wires implanted inside nerves. As muscle activity controls the motors in the prosthetic hand, sensors in the prosthetic hand provide information that commands an implanted neurostimulator to deliver stimulation pulses to the sensory nerve fibers. The elicited sensations can improve control of the prosthesis.
“Jason has reported enhanced confidence in performing daily tasks,” said Ranu Jung, the chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering within the College of Engineering & Computing and a Wallace H. Coulter Eminent Scholars Chair in biomedical engineering. “I am so grateful to Jason for believing in our research and giving us the opportunity to work with him to test our technology. My hope is that this will enhance his life for the better.”
The system’s emphasis on both functionality and usability may increase independence, productivity and quality of life.
“FIU is a solutions center with local and global impact,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “We are always working to take our groundbreaking research from the lab directly to the people who need it the most. Dr. Jung’s work is going to change countless lives for the better.”
In 2016, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted an investigational device exemption for the first-in-human trial of the NEPH system. Commercially available motorized prostheses currently on the market do not provide a sense of touch, which limits the utility of a prosthetic hand.
Dr. Ranu Jung demostrating the NEPH
The system is the result of a decade-long team effort. NEPH was developed in collaboration with James Abbas of the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering at Arizona State University and builds upon the pioneering work of team member Kenneth Horch, who is now at FIU.
Implantation of the device was performed by Dr. Aaron Berger and his team from Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. Berger is a hand and peripheral nerve surgeon who holds an appointment in FIU’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.
Jung has spent the last decade developing the prosthetic hand system with support from a Bioengineering Research Partnership grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health.
“This research team established bold goals from the outset to build a prosthetic that restores a natural sense of touch and control following loss of a limb,” said Jill Heemskerk, acting director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. “Dr. Jung and her team have integrated biology, electronics, and mechanics to provide a rich experience for a recipient of the neural-enabled prosthetic hand.”
Industry partners include Cochlear Ltd., Motion Control Inc., a division of Fillauer Companies, Nikao Inc. and clinical teams from Nicklaus Children’s Hospital and Ortho Pro. Government support for the clinical research trial is from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Army Research Office (ARO).
Florida International University, a public university located in Miami, has a passion for student success and community solutions. The university is classified by Carnegie as “R1.” FIU is among the top 100 public universities in U.S. News and World Report’s 2019 Best Colleges and 18 academic programs are individually ranked. FIU was recently ranked as the second best performing university in Florida and graduates are among the highest-paid in the state. FIU has multiple state-of-the-art research facilities including the Wall of Wind Research and Testing Facilityand FIU’s Medina Aquarius Program. FIU has awarded more than 330,000 degrees since 1972 and enrolls more than 57,000 students in two campuses and centers including FIU Downtown on Brickell, FIU@I-75, the Miami Beach Urban Studios, and sites in Qingdao and Tianjin, China. FIU also supports artistic and cultural engagement through its three museums: Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, the Wolfsonian-FIU, and the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU. FIU is a member of Conference USA with more than 400 student-athletes participating in 18 sports. For more information about FIU, visit www.fiu.edu
About the College of Engineering & Computing
As a member of one of the country’s top-tier research universities, the College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) is actively engaged in cutting-edge studies and education, and is home to top-level research laboratories and facilities. With close to 5,500 students, CEC graduates the largest number of Hispanic engineers in the continental United States. CEC has three schools – Moss School of Construction, Infrastructure and Sustainability; the School of Computing and Information Sciences; and the School of Universal Computing, Construction and Engineering Education – and four departments – Biomedical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mechanical and Materials Engineering.
About Nicklaus Children’s Hospital
Founded in 1950 by Variety Clubs International, Nicklaus Children's Hospital is South Florida's only licensed specialty hospital exclusively for children, with nearly 800 attending physicians and more than 475 pediatric subspecialists. The 309-bed hospital, known as Miami Children's Hospital from 1983 through 2014, is renowned for excellence in all aspects of pediatric medicine with many specialty programs routinely ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report since 2008. The hospital is also home to the largest pediatric teaching program in the southeastern United States and has been designated an American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Magnet facility, the nursing profession’s most prestigious institutional honor. For more information, please visit www.nicklauschildrens.org.