Claudia Mitchell, a former US Marine, has been dubbed “the world’s first bionic woman” after being fitted with a robot arm controlled by her thoughts.
Constructed and fitted by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), the neuro-controlled Bionic Arm allows an amputee to move his or her prosthetic arm as if it is a real limb simply by thinking.
The technology was developed by Todd Kuiken, M.D., Ph.D., director of RIC’s Neural Engineering Centre for Bionic Medicine, and a team of leading rehabilitation experts with the support of grants from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).
To provide the neuro-controlled movement of RIC’s Bionic Arm technology, nerves located in the amputee’s shoulder, which once went to the amputated arm, are re-routed and connected to healthy muscle in the chest. This surgical process is called targeted muscle reinnervation.
The muscle reinnervation procedure allows the re-routed nerves to grow into the chest muscle and direct the signals they once sent to the amputated arm instead to the robotic arm via surface electrodes. Then, when the patient thinks about moving his or her arm, the action is carried out as voluntarily as it would be in a healthy arm allowing for smoother and easier movement of the prosthetic.
Currently available artificial arms have only up to three motors. RIC’s revolutionary Bionic Arm technology includes a six-motor arm developed in collaboration with an international group of researchers. Dr. Kuiken and his team also have made significant advancements in the area of sensory feedback so that the patient can actually feel if they are touching hot or cold objects.