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ASU virtual reality system could give arm amputees sense of natural movement

(Photo via Kevin O'Neill/ASU)

Virtual reality for a good cause. Researchers at Arizona State University are using the new technology to help those who have lost a limb.

For those who have lost the use of their hand, sensors are tapped into nerves in the arm. Those nerves are still trying to talk to a hand that’s no longer there. As the person thinks about moving certain fingers, a signal controls that person’s prosthetic limb. As they think about those movements, they can see them in virtual reality.

“We can actually provide some sensation of touch from the limb back through the nerve and they will control the limb just by thinking about moving it,” said Dr. Bradley Greger, associate professor at Arizona State University.

Greger has worked with graduate students at ASU on this project. He said for those who have lost their hand, it is a great environment for patients to practice natural movement.

“The idea is that with enough practice in that environment, it will really just become like using their natural limb,” Greger said.

Greger is hopeful this technology could help lead to the development of more sophisticated prosthetic limbs in the future, even ones that would allow an amputee to use a touch phone naturally. Greger said tests are continuing with the virtual reality system, and he’s hoping to start recruiting patients to take part in the tests in a few months.

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