“It feels like I have a foot again. It’s like a second lease on life,” said Wolfgang Rangger to the BBC after trying out his brand new, sensor enabled leg.
Austrian scientists have developed an artificial limb that will give amputees sensations that simulate having a real leg. The sole of the foot will be outfitted with sensors that stimulate nerves at the point where the artificial limb connects to the rest of the leg.
The process begins when doctors adjust the nerve endings in a patient’s stump to place them closer to the surface of the skin for easier stimulation. When someone walks on the new leg the pressure and feeling on the sole are relayed to the connection point between the leg and the stump, which is in turn then relayed to the brain and processed as “feeling.” Essentially the brain will be tricked via nerve endings into believing that there is a foot at the end of the wearer’s leg.
Leg-tester Wolfgang Rangger is a former teacher who lost his leg after a stroke, but thanks to this new technology, he says he can feel the difference between walking on gravel, concrete, ice and grass. “I can even feel small stones,” he remarked.
The stimulation of the nerves and subsequent belief on the part of the brain that a limb does exist has also shown promise in relieving phantom limb pains.
The Austrian team has unveiled their results at a press conference, but have yet to publish the details of their work. In the meantime they are also working on developing an artificial hand with fingers that can feel as well.