Man’s Bionic Arm Provides Hope for GIs

Posted on September 14, 2006 

Man’s Bionic Arm Provides Hope for GIs

Jesse Sullivan has two prosthetic arms, but he can climb a ladder at his house and roll on a fresh coat of paint. He’s also good with a weed-whacker, bending his elbow and rotating his forearm to guide the machine. He’s even mastered a more sensitive maneuver – hugging his grandchildren. The motions are coordinated and smooth because his left arm is a bionic device controlled by his brain. He thinks, “Close hand,” and electrical signals sent through surgically re-routed nerves make it happen.

Not magic but high-tech science makes the bionic arm work. A procedure called “muscle reinnervation,” developed by Kuiken and used on five additional patients so far, is the key.

For Sullivan, it involved grafting shoulder nerves, which used to go to his arms, to his pectoral muscle. The grafts receive thought-generated impulses, and the muscle activity is picked up by electrodes; these relay the signals to the arm’s computer, which causes motors to move the elbow and hand, mimicking a normal arm.

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