A team of researchers at the University of Chicago has received a $3.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. The funding will help the team develop robotic arms patients can control with their minds that receive sensory feedback from attached prosthetic hands.
The new grant is part of a combined $7 million awarded to UChicago, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to continue their collaboration developing prosthetics with a brain-computer interface for paralyzed patients. In 2016, the team demonstrated how a clinical trial participant was able to control a robotic arm with his mind and regain the sense of touch through its hand.
The new grant will expand the clinical trial to UChicago, where the project will be led by Assoc. Prof. Sliman Bensmaia, who studies the sense of touch, and Prof. Nicholas Hatsopoulos, who researches how the brain directs movement in the limbs. John Downey, a staff scientist in Bensmaia’s lab who formerly worked with the Pitt team, will coordinate research activities. Neurosurgeon Peter Warnke will perform surgical procedures to implant the devices, and Raymond Lee, a physical rehabilitation specialist from Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital in Chicago, will recruit subjects and provide guidance on the patient population involved.
“Our goal is to create a prosthesis that has the same dexterity and functionality as the natural human hand,” said Bensmaia, associate professor in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy. “UChicago has the benefit of years of experience with both motor neuroscience and somatosensory research, and we look forward to continuing that work with our partners at Pitt and UPMC.”
The research team at Pitt and UPMC is led by Michael Boninger and includes Jennifer Collinger, Robert Gaunt, and Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara. That team has worked with two Pittsburgh-area clinical trial participants since 2012, both of whom had paralysis of their arms and hands. The new project will recruit two more such patients at each site.