Skip to main content

Summer Student 2019: Zachary McNeill

Summer Student 2019: Zachary McNeill

Supervised by Dr Kianoush Nazarpour at Newcastle University, Zachary will use non-invasive methods on human participants to improve the function of prosthetic hands and help replace invasive experiments on cats, dogs and rats.

Prosthetic hands have the potential to greatly improve the quality of life of people with amputations by increasing their independence. However, people often abandon the use of their prostheses as current designs typically fail to meet functional needs. One way of improving the function of prosthetic hands is to provide users with sensory perception – such as a sense of how tightly they are grasping an object.

When people lose a limb, the nerves and the part of the brain that would normally receive sensory information from the lost limb are left behind and still functional. A promising way to provide people with amputations with sensory perception is to electrically stimulate these nerves. Unfortunately, current research into how nerves respond to different patterns of electrical stimulation is conducted by cutting open rats, dogs, and cats and putting invasive electrodes into their nerves.

In his summer research project, Zachary will investigate sensory perception in humans by non-invasively stimulating nerves using electrical pulses applied through the skin and monitoring their response. He will stimulate nerves in the arms of willing human participants, who will be asked to describe the sensations that they feel in response to the stimulation.

Zachary’s research could provide people with amputations with not only an improved ability to control their prosthesis, but also greater sensation, spatial awareness and reduction in phantom limb pain. By developing a non-invasive and human relevant, ethical experiment on volunteers, their research could bring us that much closer towards recreating full human function through prosthetics and help replace the use of invasive and painful experiments on cats, dogs and rats.

This research has the potential to help with the design of future prosthetic devices. The use of human participants is not only more ethical and humane than animal experiments, but it also means that they can communicate with researchers to give detailed and descriptive results.

Page last modified on February 5, 2020 4:19 pm