“This lab is unique in the sense that our research includes one of the most intimate interfaces between man and machine that is clinically viable, meaning that patients benefit from using it in their daily lives”, says Max Ortiz Catalan, Associate Professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering. He is the researcher behind the world’s first robotic arm connected to the patient’s bone, nerves, and muscles that provides sensations to the user.
Unique laboratory opened for bionic limb prostheses at E2, Chalmers
The world’s first laboratory for research on biomechatronics and neurorehabilitation of patients with limb loss has been established at Chalmers University of Technology. The lab is now equipped to advance the research even further.
The first patient got his bionic arm in 2013 and has up to now been followed by another five patients. According to the plan, the first mind-controlled prosthetic leg will be ready to be implemented in 2020. The laboratory at Chalmers is the hub for developing and testing the prostheses, and for evaluating how well this technology work for the patients. The overall purpose is to restore quality of life after traumatic events leading to amputations or motor impairments.
“The patients are satisfied and state that they are able to live a more normal everyday life when using their prostheses. In this new lab we have much better opportunities to actually measure and quantify the function and usability. This is invaluable in the continued research work and to further improve the functionality of the bionic limbs”, says Max Ortiz Catalan.
Among other things, the researchers are developing the function of artificial sensory feedback by which sensory information is sent back from the prosthesis to the brain. Research is also being successfully conducted on phantom limb pain, and treatments thereof, built on so called phantom motor execution, a novel treatment invented by Max Ortiz Catalan.
The inauguration of the new laboratory was held on 25 September in the EDIT building at Chalmers. The ceremony gathered collaborators, representatives from foundations, researchers and doctoral students from Max Ortiz Catalan’s research team.
The new facilities in the lab have been made possible, to a large extent, by a donation of SEK 5 million from the foundation IngaBritt och Arne Lundbergs Forskningsstiftelse. The laboratory and the activities taking place there have been built up in close cooperation with Sahlgrenska University Hospital and the company Integrum AB.
The patient Rickard Normark (on the image above) cut the ribbon at the inauguration ceremony. His prosthetic arm is directly attached by a titanium screw to the skeleton in the amputation stump with an abutment penetrating the skin. The method is called osseointegration. The prosthesis is also connected by electrodes to his nervous system, providing him with sensory feedback when using it. This enables him to control the prosthetic limb by using his mind and to feel that the artificial arm is part of his own body.
The laboratory also includes advanced EEG equipment to measure the brain activity in patients, as was demonstrated by doctoral student Eva Lendaro and Max Ortiz Catalan during the inauguration.
Text: Yvonne Jonsson, communication officer at E2, Chalmers
Photo: Johan Bodell