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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

UTA professor chronicles military’s use of prosthetics

By Vijoleta Nikolic/reporter

Stories abound about soldiers injured in the line of duty and losing limbs.

On Nov. 11, a bioengineering associate professor from the University of Texas at Arlington told SE Campus students about developing prosthetic limbs for war veterans.

Romero Ortega received a $2.2 million grant from the Defense Advances Research Projects Agency, part of the U.S. Department of Defense, to conduct studies and research on developing a neural interface that would give movement and sensitivity to people using prosthetic limbs.

One of the first prosthetic limbs ever created was the hook in the 1950s, which performed only three degrees of freedom whereas the natural hand can perform 22 degrees of freedom.

Over time, scientists have developed prosthetic limbs that look and move almost like one’s natural hands.

Previous research focused only on the brain. 

Ortega and his team are focusing on entering the electrodes into the limbs themselves because the nerves have just been cut and are sitting there doing nothing, he said.

The team has developed a neural interface that is different from the one currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Theirs is made out of carbon and is also longer, measuring up to five millimeters.

As with any research or study, Ortega and his team face some challenges.

They have to develop a device that will not damage tissue, find a minimally invasive way to inject the electrodes and figure out a way to split the nerves so the brain knows what to do, he said.

Ortega asked the 50 people in attendance if they were missing a limb if they would be willing to have their skull opened and an electrode inserted.

Not a single person raised a hand. Ortega said such a response is common.

Even though people are missing limbs, they often are too scared to undergo the surgery to insert the electrode into their brain, Ortega said.

“People don’t use their limbs because of lack of sensation,” he said.

“One of the main focuses of our study with this grant is to try and make a way so that people will be able to sense their limbs and would be able to direct signals to their brain to get the limbs to move the way they want them too.”

Electrodes are also being studied for patients suffering with Alzheimer’s, Ortega said.

“Right now, it’s only being used on rats,” he said. “But before we know it, it will be available to people.”


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