Researchers at [removed]Worcester Polytechnic Institute[/removed] (WPI), Worcester, Mass, are laying the groundwork for a new generation of advanced prosthetic limbs that will be fully integrated with the body and nervous system.  

These implantable neuroprosthetics will look and function like natural limbs, enabling injured soldiers and the more than 2 million other amputees in the United States to lead more independent lives. The institute notes that more than 1,200 American soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have lost one or more limbs.

As part of the recently approved Department of Defense appropriations bill, Congress has allocated $1.6 million to the Center for Neuroprosthetics and BioMEMS (CNB), part of WPI’s Bioengineering Institute, to advance this work. Sponsored by Massachusetts Senators John Kerry and Paul G. Kirk Jr, and Rep James P. McGovern, the allocation will, in particular, fund work at WPI on neural control for advanced prosthetics. The allocations will be directed by the Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Resource Center (TATRC).

In all, 30 WPI researchers, from multiple science and engineering disciplines, including regenerative biology, tissue engineering, surface science and nanotechnology, and biomedical signal processing, are engaged in work related to neuroprosthetics. Their research focuses on two primary goals: regenerating tissue to create a robust soft-tissue seal around an implanted limb to make possible natural movement and deter infection; and using engineered microwires as scaffolds for the recruitment of neural stem cells and the regeneration of nerves.

Ultimately, by regenerating nerves, it is anticipated that it will be possible to connect the limb directly to the nervous system, enabling it to send feedback to and receive commands from the brain, says the institute.

"With advances in body armor and battlefield medicine, soldiers are far more likely to survive combat injuries today than during past conflicts," said W. Grant McGimpsey, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and director of WPI’s Bioengineering Institute and the CNB, in a statement from the institute. "But too often, they return home to find their quality of life curtailed. We owe it to those who have made sacrifices for our country to apply our know-how and expertise to making them whole again."

WPI’s research in implantable, neurally controlled prosthetics began in 2007 as a result of $1 million Congressional allocation to support CNB, championed by Senators Kennedy and Kerry, and Congressman McGovern. An award from the John Adams Innovation Institute enabled the new center to explore relationships with other research institutions, and to establish the nation’s first symposium series dedicated to advancing the field of neuroprosthetics, says the Institute.

[Source: [removed]Worcester Polytechnic Institute[/removed]]