A computer model developed by neuroscientists from the University of Chicago is reportedly designed to simulate the response of nerves in the hands to touch stimulation on the skin.

Via this model, the researchers aim to better understand how hand nerves respond to touch so they could build realistic sensations into bionic hands for amputees.

“Almost everything we know about how the nerve responds to stimulation on the skin of the hand is built into this model,” says Sliman Bensmaia, PhD, associate professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago, and principal investigator of a research study detailing the computer model in more detail.

“Finally, you can see how all these nerve fibers work together to give rise to touch,” Bensmaia adds, in a media release from University of Chicago Medical Center

The study was published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The computer model is not only a way to help learn about how touch sensations work, it is also a foundation or restoring touch in bionic hands for amputees.

To achieve realistic feelings of touch, neural engineers try to reproduce the natural patterns of nerve activity generated when we manipulate objects. The computer model provides engineers with the nerve output generated by a given stimulus, which can then be recreated in a prosthetic by electrically stimulating the nerve through an interface implanted in the body.

Bensmaia and his team validated the output of the model against data from a wide variety of experiments conducted by other research teams, and show that it matches their output with millisecond precision, the release explains.

“Using a model to reproduce a biological system precisely is challenging, and we have been working on this simulation for a very long time. But the final product, I think, is worth it,” Bensmaia states in the release. “It’s a tool that will yield insights that were previously unattainable.”

[Source(s): University of Chicago Medical Center, Science Daily]