Bionic Limbs Research News May 19, 2021

AMI Impact on the Brain Feature Image

As part of our mission to help those with limb differences learn about bionic limb technology, we periodically report on the latest research news. Below are the most interesting stories that we uncovered over the past three weeks.

Impact on the Brain From Using AMI

We know, we know. We spend a lot of time talking about the Agonist-antagonist Myoneural Interface (AMI). There’s a reason for that. This technology and others that tap into our natural systems hold the key to the next generation of bionic limbs. To understand how fundamental this is, watch this short video on the impact of AMI on brain activity:

This goes to the very core of limb control. It also has major implications for phantom pain, where the brain plays a central role.

The First Use of AMI in an Upper-Limb Amputee

When we first wrote our article on AMI, we stated that it “had not yet been attempted for upper-limb amputees, though scientists believe it should work in principle”.

Well, yesterday, we got news that an upper-limb patient had undergone this procedure, and the results have been extremely encouraging, including:

  • no phantom pain;
  • the elimination of prior pain with the damaged hand;
  • improved user control of a virtual bionic hand (the patient has not yet been fitted with an actual bionic hand);
  • the patient says that he can feel his hand, and that when he moves his fingers in his mind, the fingers of the virtual bionic hand also move.

This is very exciting news. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves because AMI is still in its trial phase, but if you are contemplating an upper-limb amputation, and you have some control over the timing of your surgery, we urge you to ask your doctor about AMI. Even better, get your doctor to reach out to MIT and explore your possibilities. You never know how this may affect your plans!

For everyone else, just bookmark our main AMI article. We are monitoring developments as closely as we can and will update that article the moment we have more news.

A Deeper Look at Neural Interfaces

One of the problems with the bionic limb industry that led to the creation of BionicsForEveryone was the glaring information gap between promotional marketing material and complex scientific papers. In response, we wanted to create a kind of Cliff’s Notes for patients so that they could more easily understand their bionic options.

Sometimes, however, we need to go on a slightly deeper dive. The fact is, bionic hands are never going to replace natural hands until we incorporate true thought control and full sensory feedback, which will only be achieved through some kind of neural interface. This is much closer to reality than you might think.

When it does become reality, you will likely have to choose from various options. And these choices won’t be like purchasing a bionic limb, where you can simply swap one for the other. These choices will likely involve surgery and have much longer-term consequences. This means that you need to do your homework.

So buckle up. After a few days of sifting through all the available videos the subject, we finally found one that does a great job of explaining the challenges and technologies involved, starting with the opening segment from 1:27 to 10:49. As you watch this 9-minute segment, ignore some of the technical terms and focus instead on the general nature of Dr. Tyler’s explanation:

Some of the central points of this segment are:

  • The nervous system remains highly organized all the way from the peripheral nerves up to the brain or at least high in the spinal cord, meaning that even in cases such as an amputation near the shoulder, the system is still organized enough to be able to differentiate finger sensations.
  • We are slowly learning how to communicate with this system in increasingly sophisticated ways.

Now watch the segment from 11:31 to 27:07. We know that this a much longer video segment than we typically show, but we strongly urge you to watch it. Not only will it give you a great understanding of the current status of neural interfaces for bionic hands. It will also fill you with hope and optimism for the future. These guys are going to figure this out.

In case you’re interested, here is a short video of one of the amputees that is working with Dr. Tyler, albeit from five years ago:

To help you stay current on this subject, we’ll monitor Dr. Tyler’s work and post any updates as they occur.

Related Information

Are you interested in bionic limb research? If so, see our complete selection of research articles.

For a comprehensive description of all current upper-limb technologies, devices, and research, see A Complete Guide to Bionic Arms & Hands.

For a comprehensive description of all current lower-limb technologies, devices, and research, see A Complete Guide to Bionic Legs & Feet.