|New technology might improve hand function|
lost to nerve damage. (Source: meltmethod.com)
Engineers have developed and successfully demonstrated the value of a simple pulley mechanism to improve hand function after surgery. The device, tested in cadaver hands, is one of the first instruments ever created that could improve the transmission of mechanical forces and movement while implanted inside the body. This technology may offer new options to people who have lost the use of their hands due to nerve trauma, and ultimately be expanded to improve function of a wide range of damaged joints in the human body.
An implanted pulley system may one day
help people with nerve damage regain a better
(Source: Oregon State University)
The new mechanism is not really robotic since it has no sensory, electronic or motor capabilities. Rather, it's a passive technology using a basic pulley that will be implanted within a person's hand to allow more natural grasping function with less use of muscle energy.
The new research showed, in cadavers, that the mechanism developed can produce more natural and adaptive flexion of the fingers in grasping. The needed force to close all four fingers around an object was reduced by 45 percent, and the grasp improvement on an object reduced slippage by 52 percent. Such progress can be an important step to improve function beyond the existing surgical procedure, by providing an alternative to the suture which has been the previous mainstay. The hand, experts say, is amazingly complex, with 35-38 muscles and 22 joints all working together, innervated by three nerves between the elbow and fingertip.
The long-term potential of such mechanized assistance is profound. In some cases it may be possible to create joints or limbs that mechanically function as well or better than they did originally.