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VA APT Researcher Receives DARPA Award to Provide Natural Sensation for Lower Limb Amputees

The Defense Advance Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded researchers at Case Western Reserve University, the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center (LSCVAMC) and the Cleveland Clinic a $780,000 contract to explore new methods for restoring natural sensation of foot-floor contact and joint loads to lower limb amputees.  Entitled “Natural Sensation for Lower Limb Amputees,” the project will establish the feasibility of re-establishing natural perceptions of how the trans-tibial or trans-femoral limb prostheses interact with the environment that are indistinguishable from that of the intact limb to allow users to maintain balance, prevent falls and negotiate complex and unpredictable environments, without conscious attention or even in the dark. The18-month study aims to leverage the many recent technical advances in neural and prosthetic technologies resulting from various projects taking place in Cleveland under the auspices of the Advanced Platform Technology (APT) Center of Excellence.

The multidisciplinary research team led by Dr. Ronald Triolo will explore the practical performance of a  system consisting of external and implanted components that communicate wirelessly to acquire information from physical sensors integrated into commercially available lower limb prosthesis, and translate that information into specialized patterns of electrical stimulation delivered to the sensory nerves left in the residual limb via new high-density and ultra-flexible peripheral nerve interfaces developed with prior funding from the NIH, VA and other sponsors. 

“Our approach is unprecedented and highly innovative because it will conduct first-in-man feasibility studies of lower limb sensory systems, rather than rely on prolonged in vivo or in sito animal testing,” says Dr. Triolo.  “Many of us take standing and walking for granted, and even though we’ve all stumbled or momentarily lost balance our sensory and control systems are work well enough to give us the confidence to move in all kinds of environments without a lot of concentration or effort.  Without sensory feedback, such seemingly simple tasks can become exceedingly difficult or even dangerous.

Advanced powered prosthetic knee and ankle joints are becoming increasingly common.  Yet even the most sophisticated of the wearable robots currently on the market still lack the ability to provide their users with natural sensation derived from transducers integrated into the prosthesis itself, rather than inferred from visual attention or the forces transmitted to the body via the skin-socket interface.

“Our ultimate goal is to define a clinically viable intervention that allows users to feel and interact with the world as if their limbs were still intact,” says Dr. Triolo. “The system we envision will help individuals to realize the full potential of their advanced robotic prosthetic legs to function optimally in any environment in a natural and intuitive way.”

Dr. Triolo serves as the Executive Director of the Cleveland APT Center and is primarily responsible for all aspects of its administration. He is a tenured Full Professor of Orthopaedics and Biomedical Engineering at Case Western Reserve University and Senior Career Research Scientist at the LSCVAMC.

About the APT Center:  The APT Center is one of 17 designated Centers of Excellence in the Rehabilitation Research and Development (RR&D) Service of the US Department of Veterans Affairs.  Established in 2005 as a collaboration between the LSCVAMC and CWRU, the APT Center focuses on applying the most recent advancements in microelectronics, material science, microfabrication, wireless communication and mechanical design to the pressing medical needs of disabled veterans, and translating them into viable clinical options.  Investigators, project staff and support specialists associated with the Center concentrate their professional effort on translational research in the areas of: Prosthetics and Orthotics, Health Monitoring and Maintenance, Neural Interfacing, and Emerging Enabling Technologies. Clinician-researchers associated with the Center include some of the “Best Doctors in America” as named by Cleveland Magazine and Best Doctors, Inc. as well as multiple recipients of prestigious Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the NIH Director’s Innovation Award, and VA Career or Senior Career Research Scientist Awards.  APT Center related activities have resulted in more than 60 invention disclosures and 15 patented or patent-pending concepts and prototypes that will serve the clinical needs of veterans with sensory, motor and cognitive deficits or limb loss.   For additional information about the APT Center, please follow the link: