Arkansan becomes second person to receive neural-enhanced prosthetic hand
Device enables patient to feel and grip via connections to nerves
Orthopedic hand and nerve specialists Dr. Mark Tait, (left) and Dr. John Bracey use a surgical microscope as they implant tiny filament wires into the patient’s nerves. The two were part of the surgical team that successfully attached a neural-enabled prosthetic hand at UAMS in January 2023. (Photo by Evan Lewis/UAMS)
Earlier this year, an Arkansas resident became only the second person in the world to receive a prosthetic hand “that restores a meaningful sense of touch and grip,” the University of Arkansas announced.
The recipient, whose identity remains confidential, has been learning to use the neural-enabled prosthesis at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville with the team of researchers at the Institute for Integrative and Innovative Research (I³R) who developed the prosthesis, according to a press release. The surgery to attach the hand was performed in January at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).
Neurosurgeon Dr. Erika Petersen led the lengthy and detailed operation. Orthopedic hand and nerve specialists Dr. John Bracey and Dr. Mark Tait were co-leaders on the procedure.
“The surgery went really well,” said Petersen, who is also a pioneer in the implantation of nerve stimulators for pain and movement disorders. “It’s a great achievement for UAMS, the University of Arkansas and our state. It’s also an exciting promise of what’s to come for people with amputations around the globe.”
The technology significantly advances the ability to harness the power of the human nervous system, said Petersen, a professor and director of the Section of Functional and Restorative Neurosurgery in the College of Medicine Department of Neurosurgery.
An engineering team led by Ranu Jung, Ph.D., and James Abbas, Ph.D., invented and developed the neural-enhanced prosthesis with National Institutes of Health funding while serving as faculty researchers at Florida International University and Arizona State University. They are now part of the UA Institute for Integrative and Innovative Research.
“I’m pleased that with this second successful surgery we’re taking another step forward toward broad deployment of this life-improving technology,” Jung said.
The device was first used on a patient in Florida, according to the press release. It has received investigational device exemption status from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an effort led by Sathyakumar Kuntaegowdanahalli, Ph.D.
“Drs. Jung and Abbas and their team have opened the door to a new era of augmenting people’s ability to function in the world,” Petersen said. “We are grateful they chose us as collaborators.”
Abbas, who has a joint appointment with UAMS in the Department of Neurosurgery, led discussions that brought the team of UAMS surgeons, Snell Prosthetics and Orthotics and health technology companies together with I³R’s Adaptive Neural Systems Group (ANS). The UAMS Translational Research Institute also facilitated collaboration on the study, “Neural Enabled Prosthesis for Upper Limb Amputees
“As researchers pioneering innovations to make a positive societal impact, we need academic and industry partners who are on the leading-edge with us,” Abbas said. “Our collaboration with UAMS and Snell is an example of the type of innovative work that is happening in Arkansas.”
Petersen, Bracey and Tait implanted 15 microelectrodes and other components that are part of the Jung-Abbas device and which enable communication between the brain and the prosthesis through the arm’s median and ulnar nerves.
Bracey and Tait, surgical partners throughout their residency, surgical specialty fellowship training and their UAMS practice, performed the specialized and delicate task of implanting thinner-than-human hair filaments into the nerves of the patient’s left arm, the release said.
“We’re really in tune, and sometimes we communicate without even talking,” said Bracey, an assistant professor in the College of Medicine Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.
“This surgery was a little bit sneaky hard, but Dr. Bracey and I have been operating together for so long that it came to us very easily and naturally,” said Tait, an associate professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. “And when issues arose, we weren’t frazzled; we just worked through them and figured it out.”
Bracey and Tait accessed the median and ulnar nerves on the inside of the arm, and Petersen worked through an incision on the outside of the arm.
As the expert in neuromodulation, Petersen ensured that the neurostimulator portion of the device was placed appropriately, the press release said. The neurostimulator receives commands from the prosthesis-mounted components and produces electrical pulses that get conveyed to the patient’s nervous system, enabling the sense of touch.
Bracey and Tait work with many individuals with amputations, and they have dreamed about such a breakthrough.
“The idea of enabling someone to feel with their prosthesis is pretty meaningful, and we’re excited to be part of this groundbreaking project with Drs. Jung and Abbas and the I3R team,” Tait said.
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