Researchers at Johns Hopkins Biomedical Engineering Lab recognize the importance of touch and its connectivity to the world, so they have designed the E-dermis, a flexible sensor for amputees that can mimic the sensory qualities of human skin. This astonishing research, highlighted by Freethink, catapults the technology of standard prosthetics that simply replicate the mechanics of limbs. This miraculous creation of “electric skin” for prosthetics taps into the nervous system, thus allowing amputees to regain their sense of touch.
Luke Osborn, a Ph.D candidate and researcher at Johns Hopkins Biomedical Engineering Lab, is spearheading the study of electric skin for prosthetics. He’s further exploring Phantom Limb Syndrome – a phenomenon experienced by nearly 80% of amputees where the sensation of a limb is still present and recognized by the brain to some extent.
The subject of Osborn’s study is Andrew Rubin, who underwent a therapeutic amputation after experiencing an injury that de-sensitized and de-mobilized his left his hand and foot. Osborn mapped out the sensory nerves in Rubin’s arm to then send signals from the E-dermis sensor to Rubin’s brain.
Osborn is zeroing on pressure perception and non-painful and painful sensations by measuring the radius of objects. A patch of prosthetic skin is comparable to the functions of the fingertips that detect painful or unsafe objects. In other words, when the fingertips detect something sharp, we release our grip and when something’s round it doesn’t pose the same threat. For Rubin, being able to reconnect with his sense of touch has been profound: “I no longer feel disabled,” he said – and that must be one of the greatest feelings of them all.